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Trial and Error: The young female intern – Clarify your role

The young female intern – Clarify your role

“Nurse, can you help me sit up?”, “Nurse, I would like to pee.”, “Thank you, nurse”. These are sentences I, as a female doctor in training, heard frequently from patients during my internship at internal medicine. I visited the patients that were addressed to me daily, never correcting patients because the mix up did not really bother me. At the end of one day a nurse came to me and said that a patient had complained that although there was a very friendly nurse, the doctor never visited him. He was almost at the point to make an official complaint about this. I was sure I visited this patient that day, but because I had not corrected the patient in his “thank you, nurse” he never knew I was the doctor (or in this case: the medical student).

As a young female intern it is always possible that a (often elderly) patient addresses you as nurse. In their beliefs, by experience, cultural background or because it has always been that way, a female is a nurse and a male a doctor (of course this is somewhat exaggerated). I never felt annoyed nor offended when a patient called me nurse, but I also did not correct them. Moreover, I never requested a nurse to help explaining that I was not the nurse but a medical student.

Following the experience with the unsatisfied patient about the medical attention he presumably had not gotten, I now always make clear I am a doctor-in-training. This is not just to avoid complaints, but it can be reassuring for patients to know that the doctor is giving them the attention they need.

K. Smit & N. Rol

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