Women Doctors Aren’t Better; More Human? Maybe

April 14, 2017

You may have missed the report concluding that patients had lower readmission and mortality rates if they were under the care of female hospitalists vs their male counterparts. I know excellent physicians in both camps and some sorry ones as well.

You may have missed the report that came out last year just before the holidays concluding that patients had lower readmission and mortality rates if they were under the care of female hospitalists vs their male counterparts. I can’t say that I gave the report a lot of scrutiny. I don’t like pitting genders against one another. Who does that benefit? I know excellent physicians in both camps and some sorry ones as well. But this study did come at the heels of some hue and cry on social media about how female physicians are treated in society in general.

The study did not offer an explanation for which practice patterns among female hospitalists produced better results, but I know that when I see inpatients who need help with a food tray or getting their glasses or sitting up in bed, I am happy to lend a hand. In fact, I probably look to see if they need something before we start talking-is that a female trait? Does it make the patient more attentive? I am more likely to have an in-depth discussion with a patient; I say this because I have been told consistently by patients and families that I explain things more thoroughly than other doctors. I think it is because I want to make sure we are all on the same page; the alternative is confusion and misunderstanding. This leads to fewer phone calls, so it is a selfish motivation in part. Perhaps information is perceived and retained better coming from a woman, which makes patients more likely to follow instructions and comply with medication directions. I am fairly confident that women make better eye contact and are more active listeners than men. Sorry, guys!

Here is my 2 cents.

After 30-plus years of practice, I am still routinely called “nurse.” One weekend while making hospital rounds a patient turned to his wife and said, “Look, honey, Dr. K sent his assistant to see me this weekend. Aren’t you the Paula I talk to on the phone?” This was just after I introduced myself as Dr. Bechhold, Dr. K’s partner covering for the weekend. It was the funniest story to tell in the office Monday morning. Was I offended? Hardly!

A female voice answering a patient call on the phone is virtually always assumed to be a nurse-day or night. Again, oh well. It is not a personal affront. I correct them once and move on.

When I would make personal phone calls in the office and my partners would hear me say, “Hi, this is Mrs. Bechhold calling,” they would go nuts. They could not believe I did not invoke the doctor title, even when I was calling my children’s school or the car dealer. These places do not need to be reminded that I treat cancer patients. My children’s friends usually always called me Dr. Bechhold, but never because I asked them to do so.

For younger female physicians out there, I don’t believe that anyone is trying to disrespect you. If you feel insulted, get a thicker skin and focus on taking care of your patients. The people who matter respect your knowledge and expertise.

On a related note, I do have one pet peeve: male doctors who wear their magic necklaces (stethoscopes) around their necks outside of the healthcare setting. Women never do that! Please stop.

Comments are always welcome-I am certain there are many anecdotes out there and certainly different points of view.