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Should I stop patients calling my colleague a 'lady doctor'?

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‘Nice to meet you, Mrs Smith,’ I said, shaking hands with the patient and offering a chair. ‘Now, I believe last time you were here you saw my predecessor…’  I started to flick back to the last clinic letter to find a name.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Mrs Smith. ‘The lady doctor.’

‘Oh, you mean a gynaecologist!’ I replied.*

‘Lady doctor’ is a term I’ve heard used to mean ‘gynaecologist’ innumerable times over my career so far and it never ceases to make me smile - not least because there is the very faintest of implications that I must, therefore, be the ‘man doctor’: a big, hairy man doctor, capable of lighting barbeques and reading maps at a moment’s notice - although obviously not at the same time, because that would be multi-tasking.

And I’ve always thought it laughable that it’s the female doctors who seem to acquire an adjective, given they are in the majority. Surely it’s us men who should be highlighted for our gender? But that doesn’t ever seem to be the case.

The phrase always makes me smile, and I always take it to be meant without offence - but am I doing my colleagues a disservice? Should I be challenging such gentle sexism? If the adjective were foreign, or Indian, would that be any more or less offensive?

If I’m referred to as the tall doctor it doesn’t bother me (if anything it adds to my sense of manliness). But tall people haven’t been discriminated against in the same way that women and other minority groups have, so perhaps I should be taking some gentle offence at this gentle sexism. 

And at least foreign, Indian and tall are all (technically) adjectives. ‘Lady’ is not. ‘Lady doctor’ sounds like something that is different from a doctor.

But the patient clearly isn’t meaning any offence. Who am I to challenge them? The patient has come to see me because, in some way, they need to be cared for. Pointing out their inadvertent sexism and misuse of grammar would probably stymie the consultation somewhat. It’s not like she’s effing and blinding about something, which I could reasonably object to. I suspect she’s too much of a lady for that.

*Admittedly I said this in my head, a long time after the consultation ended.

Dr Tim Cassford is a GPST2 in Chichester

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Readers' comments (11)

  • While I can see that the existence of the phrase "lady doctor" might be interesting data to a Gender Studies academic, it would be a little bizzarre to challenge it during a consultation...

    If "lady doctor" is the most offensive thing any patient says about the GP in question then she really has nothing to worry about.

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  • Surely its a functional thing - she is not describing a lady who is a doctor, but a doctor who sees ladies?

    Isn't this really a sign that most patients can't remember ologies?

    ps. Either men aren't always thinking about sex or they truely can multitask - can't have it both ways.

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  • a pointless article

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  • Let it lie. We are not the moral police. We do not judge, and we offer equal service to all, be they lollipop ladies, solicitors, rapists or priests. You tell her off, she thinks you are a condescending oaf.

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  • Since I get called "that useless Scouse git" by some of my patients then I think the Lady Doctors are getting off lightly.

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  • hey lady doctors......make sure you give your names but frankly most people have more to think about than the rights or wrongs of calling someone a lady doctor..

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  • The Comments Section has delivered its verdict!

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  • In theory, yes, making reference to a doctor's gender when it's not necessary or relevant to do so *should* be challenged, but there are very few occasions where this would be appropriate during a consultation.

    "Lady doctor" is quite progressive hereabouts. I've perfected a ferocious glare for patients who walk into my room and say, "Oh. I thought I was seeing the doctor today."

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  • Your article made me smile.

    A local practice even have an acronym for it "NLD" - nice lady doctor.

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