The actor fell three metres, hitting his head on the stage floor. I ran over to assist. “Would it be OK if I take a look at you?” I said quietly, “I’m a doctor.”
“You’re a doctor?”
“A doctor doctor? No way!”
The small crowd that gathered seemed more interested in my career than their fallen comrade, who, thankfully, was not seriously injured.
“I thought she lectured at uni.”
“She told me she taught music.”
“She’s way too … normal … to be a doctor.”
I had no choice but to be upfront.
“Yes, I’m a doctor — a GP. I’m also an educator. I teach doctors-in-training, and I do a little bit of violin teaching on the side.”
“Why didn’t you tell us? We’ve been working on Les Mis together for two months!”
“It didn’t seem important. I’m here to act and sing, not to talk about work.”
At the time, I was new to this theatre company and was enjoying the relative anonymity. Being judged solely on my (rather unimpressive) performance skills, I could forget all vestiges of my working life during the twice weekly rehearsals. I was Genevieve-the-also-ran-actor, not Genevieve-the-doctor-educator-musician-writer. I blended into the crowd. It was liberating.
I never lead off with the “I’m a doctor” line when introducing myself in a non-clinical context, unless directly relevant. I’ve found that it comes attached to a swag of assumptions including being a workaholic and having a penchant for golf.
Conversation tends to go off on the “she’s a doctor” detour, which can start with questions about little Johnny’s ADHD treatment and end with the removal of a shoe for an opinion about a diseased toenail.
If I’m lucky, a few jibes about the medical profession are thrown in along the way to lighten the mood. If luck is nowhere to be seen, I’ll receive a lecture about why immunisation is a government/drug company conspiracy and then get the “I’ve been looking for a nice lady doctor who’ll listen to my point of view — I think I’ll start seeing you” line.
The outlook is even more dire in the dating stakes — for we girls, that is. For many, a female’s medical qualification can be as big a turn-off for a prospective male partner as it is a turn-on when the genders are reversed.
I learnt this hard life lesson while at university.
Male medical student meets girl … She thinks: “Soon-to-be-doctor = strong-minded, intelligent, powerful, will make more money than me, mum will be overjoyed … YES please!”
Female medical student meets boy … He thinks: “Soon-to-be-doctor = strong-minded, intelligent, powerful, will make more money than me, mum will be overjoyed … run for the hills!”
I did a lot better after I changed my game plan and introduced myself as a music teacher (which is how I derived my income during medical school).
One of my male colleagues recently explained this glaring gender inequality by saying: “In general, intellectually and professionally, men like to be admired while women like to admire. Don’t take it personally. At least you’re just a GP. It would be far worse if you were a specialist.”
After my being outed during Les Miserables rehearsals, the director, who’d hardly spoken to me previously, became downright chatty. Rather amusing, really. There was a definite advantage bestowed on me, though: leniency when I occasionally arrived late to rehearsals.
“It’s all right; she’s a doctor. They’re busy people. Deal with life and death. Can’t help running late. But heaven help the rest of you if you don’t turn up on time!”
Adapted from a column published in Australian Doctor on 23rd June, 2011: On Coming Out