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“And…How Old Are You?”
There is a saying: Never ask a woman her age. It was probably written with some anti-female undertones, but I am reclaiming it’s meaning.
In the past few weeks I have been asked how old I am a total of five times by patients. You may be thinking five is a small number, but here’s the punchline: I am new to my job and have only seen about six patients so far.
When I mention this scenario, “Oh sweetie, you will just love that when you are older,” tends to be the most common response from other women. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are right. Someday I will say, “Yes! I am 75 and look 45!” But not yet.
Right now, I am angered by it.
It is not their pointing out the obvious that bothers me—I have always looked young. Being a 5 foot, 1 inch woman with curly hair helps. It is not that I wish I looked older, either, otherwise I would have listened to the voice in my head (and advice from others) telling me to wear heels and straighten my hair to “look older.” It really should not matter how tall shoes can make me, or how many more years to my life straight hair adds. Since when are medical degrees given out based on appearance of age?
The fundamental problem is that when people ask me my age what they are really doing is doubting my skill level and experience.
As a physician who battles imposter syndrome, that part doesn’t feel so good.
Studying medicine taught me to constantly compare myself to other people, accomplishment for accomplishment, grade to grade, score to score. In a field where someone is always louder (even if they may not actually be more deserving), it is easy to feel insecure. This is only heightened by being a woman in a world where women are taught to be quiet and not discuss accomplishments as they might be seen as arrogant or worse.
So, every day when someone asks me my age, I take a deep breath and try to overtake the voices in my head telling me I need to change myself to better belong or fit in. I replace them with the thoughts that know I deserve to be here and have earned my place. By winning that internal battle, instead of anger or insecurity, I can smile, and say “I just look young”.
But, here’s the truth: Your young appearing female doctor has a degree and credentials. She is qualified to see you. Never ask your doctor her age.
By. Dr. Jessica Gold
Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis in the Department of Psychiatry
Dr. Jessica (Jessi) Gold is a guest blogger for InCrowd this month. You can learn more about her here. This is a part of a series of women in medicine sharing their experiences when we asked, “What does it mean to you to be a woman in medicine?” Check our blog for upcoming pieces and you can find our previous pieces here:
Interested in participating? Reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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