Yep, Your Patients are Stereotyping You By Gender

I’m not usually one to chime in on gender in the workplace discussions. Frankly, I’m not one to tip toe around politically correct lines. I’m a hire the right person for the job kind of individual rather than one who envisions workplaces with a 50-50 balance of men and women. Recently, however, a gender related matter hit the email list serve and became a discussion topic with my employer affecting my work as a nurse practitioner. Here’s what happened. 

I work in a busy emergency department where nurse practitioners and physician assistants get along swimmingly with physicians. We work as a provider team, recognizing our educational differences but valuing each other as coworkers. Never have I felt looked down on or devalued because I don’t have the letters MD behind my name. 

Apparently, however, hospital administrators began to recognize a trend in patient complaints in the department. “I never even saw a provider”, patients lamented as they described their visit to the ED. Confused as to how this was possible, administrators did a little research. These complaints exclusively occurred among patients who had been seen by female healthcare providers

The stereotype that physicians are white haired dudes wearing glasses still prevails among our patients. When a NP, PA, or MD enters the scene and doesn’t fit the bill, or at least isn’t a middle aged male, the patient often assumes the individual is a nurse. Patients who saw a female physician or nurse practitioner in our department assumed they were receiving substandard care provided by RNs rather than NPs or MDs. 

To address the problem, providers in our super casual workplace were asked to wear lab coats over their scrubs moving forward. No problem on my end. I agree that this gives off a more professional air and is an easy solution to the problem. The adoption of the new policy has been somewhat interesting to watch. 

The laid back atmosphere of the emergency department where I work doesn’t lend itself to nit-picking by directors and administrators (which is generally a huge positive). So, when word went out about the new lab coat rule, there wasn’t a whole lot of enforcement day-to-day. What I did notice was this. Male providers never adopted the new guideline, or ditched their lab coats after a few days whereas, conscious of the reason for the new rule, female providers continued to wear them. 

This leaves me as a female in a bit of an awkward position. In an effort to be a good employee, I recognize the value in complying with my department’s wishes. As one who abhors wearing a lab coat and the dry cleaning that goes along with it, I am eager to follow the crowd and leave mine behind as well.

In the grand scheme of things, this lab coat situation isn’t a major deal. But it has been interesting to watch both from the standpoint of the patient’s perspective in their complaints about the department and from the standpoint of an employee.  

Do you notice gender biases or discrepancies in your workplace as a nurse practitioner?


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