June 3rd, 2020

Will the Real Doctor Please Stand Up?

Allison Latimore, MD

Dr. Latimore is the Education Chief Resident at the MedStar Washington Hospital Family Residency Program in Washington, DC

I stood in the hospital elevator yawning and rubbing my eyes, waiting to get off on my floor. A woman looked over at me and said, “Congratulations.” I began to look over my body. Did I look pregnant in these scrubs? Did I have on my real engagement ring instead of my silicone ring? After a few seconds of wondering why she could possibly want to congratulate me, I asked, “On what?” She looked at my physician badge and said, “Your job.” I was stunned. Here I am. Frustrated with working long hours. Unable to realize my position of privilege in that moment. There have been moments in residency that I’ve had people of color tell me how proud of me they are. I’ve had little girls tell me that they want to be like me when they grow up. But the reality is, I struggle to believe that I even belong in this career.

Dr. Latomore at her med school graduation with her parents

You Are the Doctor?

black female physician

I am a short black woman, in her 20s. When I walk into an exam room with a white coat on, so many patients tell their relatives on the phone, “Hold on. The nurse is here.” My personal favorite is being called a baby doctor, because at least I still look young. I’ve stood on a hospital floor reading an EKG with a stethoscope around my neck, and have been asked, “Are you the secretary?” The person who asked was the night secretary reporting for her shift.

It’s hard for me to go along with some of the simplest things in medicine. For example, some of my colleagues don’t wear white coats for a myriad of good reasons. When I’m in the hospital, I feel it is necessary to wear a white coat, because a badge that says, “Physician” or “MD” is not enough to remind people that I am indeed a doctor.  There are people who feel that referring to yourself as Dr. to others in the medical field or to patients is pompous or reserved for attendings, but I feel I need to, just so people understand my role in their care. I’ve had a patient ask me if I was legally a doctor before just observing an in-office procedure. There have been times when I’ve been disrespected by colleagues or others in the medical field, and I can’t help but wonder why they felt it was okay to speak to me in that way. Is it because I’m young, black, a woman, all of the above, or am I being overly sensitive because of the aforementioned reasons?

Pay it Forward

Meharry Medical College Class of 2018

For every uncomfortable situation, there have been positives. I have had the opportunity to mentor at my alma mater and to  share my story, my setbacks, and my successes with students to encourage them to pursue this career.

As of March 2019, ≈300,000 out of the ≈1 million doctors in the U.S. are women. I feel that it is imperative to tell the truth about this path, because I didn’t come from a lineage of physicians. I was a 5-year-old with a dream to become a doctor, whose parents never stopped believing in her when she stumbled. I was fortunate to make connections with people who helped me figure out my path, and I feel a responsibility to do the same for others. Even with 3 degrees, a closet with multiple white coats, and a stack of ID badges for different hospitals and offices, I sometimes still don’t feel like I should be here. Some days, I don’t feel qualified to be writing this blog. But for whatever reason, I am here. So how do I get over the feeling? I know that anyone can feel like an imposter in this profession. If you did, how did you get over it? Does it just take time? I’m still looking for answers!

NEJM Resident 360 QI Challenge Finalists!

21 Responses to “Will the Real Doctor Please Stand Up?”

  1. Frances Ue, MD, MPH says:

    Thank you Allison for being so brave and sharing There is so much more work to be done in medicine to combat these entrenched biases.


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