September 24, 2017

Shakespeare’s famous quote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” suggests that a name or title is not significant in representing the qualities of someone or something.

A recent study published in the Women’s Journal of Health shows that the Bard is wrong when it comes to professional titles and advanced degrees. A person’s title is very important when it signifies a certain amount of knowledge and expertise. The study reviewed the use of the title “doctor” and the research showed that there is a significant discrepancy between when male and female doctors are introduced by name.

The results showed that male introducers used professional titles for female doctors only 49 percent of the time on first reference, but introduced male doctors by their titles 72 percent of the time. Female introducers used titles in introductions of both male and female doctors more often than male introducers (96 percent of the time vs. 66 percent of the time). ~ Janice Neumann, The Washington Post

This gap leads female doctors to feel less valued, and rattles their confidence. They associate it with being a part of the gender gap.

It’s the inequity and the context. I don’t mind being called ‘Sharonne’ — it’s my name! — but if all the men are being called ‘Doctor Jones’ and all the women by only their first names, that’s offensive. While I have to assume it’s inadvertent, the effect is to put me in my place as ‘less than’. ~ Mayo Doctor Sharonne Hayes, who also helped lead the study.

There is a notion that the inequity is unintentional, part of an unconscious bias, and possibly the result of a sense of familiarity or comfort by and/or with females. The result is unacceptable.  Our words are very powerful. They reflect how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others, and how they feel about us. Profoundly, our words impact the views we are shaping for our children.

We must be diligent in choosing all of our words carefully. We must work to overcome our unconscious bias so that we may speak fairly, offering respect and credit across the board, regardless of race, religion or gender.  September is Women in Medicine month. Let’s do better and be better.