How I became a better whore

“You’re a boring whore! Fix it.” The barked criticism came like a slap in the face. The director of Les Miserables was right, though. I was a boring whore.

Two whores and a sailor

Two whores and a sailor

Actors need to immerse themselves in their roles, shed inhibitions and squelch embarrassment. I was not managing to do this while rehearsing the Lovely Ladies prostitute scene. My performance was overly self-conscious and restrained.

Three days later I found myself at a medical education conference, attending a session discussing learning plans. A popular tool in adult education generally, and a training requirement for all GP registrars, learning plans are actively disliked by many. Done purposely and thoughtfully, they can be of great benefit; completed hastily or reluctantly because they are compulsory, they are next to useless.

I have to confess that, as a registrar, my own learning plans were dashed off with little thought, submitted and then promptly forgotten. I’d never thought this technique would work for me.

At the conference, the attending educators were instructed to each write a learning plan that addressed an aspect of their non-medical lives. We were asked to choose something that we genuinely wanted to improve. I instantly knew what I’d write about, and completed the task with seriousness and sincerity.

The facilitator randomly picked a few participants to read out their learning plans. The topics were predictable: “I want to exercise each morning”, “I want to get at least seven hours of sleep a night” and the like. Yes, you can see where this is leading …

I should have anticipated being called upon, but when the “We have time for one more, how about you?” came, along with direct eye contact and a kindly smile, I momentarily panicked. Surveying the room of mostly middle-aged, male faces, many of whom I didn’t know, I considered making something up on the spot. Instead, I stood up, took a deep breath and read out: “I want to be a more exciting whore.”

I then outlined my proposed methods for achieving this objective and how I intended to measure my progress. Without explanation, I then sat down.

Silence. Not a sound. Most eyes were glued to me, the others looking anywhere but. The atmosphere was thick with shock, amusement, confusion, suspense and fascination.

I didn’t leave them hanging for too long. After my disclosure as to why I chose the topic and the context in which I was “whoring”, there were audible sighs of relief and a sprinkling of laughter throughout the room.

It was memorable for those present. Four years later, I still get the occasional question about my “whoring” when I run into certain educators at conferences.

I am pleased to report that my learning plan well and truly achieved its aim. I enacted my plan exactly as written and practised diligently. I knew I had been successful when the director instructed me to “Tone it down a bit. This is a family show, you know!”

Not high-class hookers!

Not high-class hookers!

I now feel a lot more comfortable extolling the benefits of learning plans to unconvinced registrars. I tell them: “I used to think that I wasn’t a learning plan-type person either but I’ve discovered that if you choose a relevant and important objective and spend time and effort working out how to achieve it, the technique can really work.”

I tend to leave out: “It didn’t do much for my medicine, but it turned me into a fabulous whore.”

First Published in Australian Doctor on 21st July, 2011: On Becoming a Better Whore

Coming Out Of The Medical Closet

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