I was reading a newspaper article where an interview with one of my ‘friends’—a female medical doctor—was published. I want you to read the excerpt yourself and think through before proceeding with reading my article: ‘What challenges have you come across?’ The response was: In Malawi people believe that girls are nurses and not doctors whereas men are doctors even when they are nurses and being young, sometimes my patients undermine me and call me a nurse and they are like “Nurse please call the doctor”, it really breaks my heart because it shows they feel I can’t help them when I have worked so hard while in college to become a doctor. People forget that things have changed and that there are young [female] doctors everywhere who are capable of doing anything a male doctor could do.
This statement is loaded, is it not? Patients are calling a female medical doctor a nurse. This is probably because we believe that a nurse must be female. And it appears the non-marked uniformed or regular street clothes that our doctors put on do not help in distinguishing who is who within the hospital setting. Unlike in other countries where doctors’ scrubs or white coats have the inscription: Dr .., ours have nothing like that. Yes, there are patients who cannot read. But even the illiterate ones are able to distinguish who is a prison guard, who is a police officer and who is from Moyale. Even among police officers, it does not need a genius to know who is the namandwa, and who is the low-ranked dude. The uniforms tell it all. In hospitals, patients are not able to know who is who. Hence, we have these bogus doctors that parade business in the country. If patients cannot identify who is a doctor and who is a nurse, are we not in problems here?
I want you to reflect on what was purported to be my friend’s statement when she is referred to as a nurse by her patients: “…it really breaks my heart because it shows they feel I can’t help them…” Why should it break your heart doctor? I do not want to speculate but rather I wanted to encourage you that you can kindly advise your patient that you are the doctor they are looking for? What is it that you are doing that the patients should take you for a nurse and not the doctor that you are? I can tell you. When you meet the patient for the first time, before anything else, tell them: “I am Dr Adamson Muula, and I will be taking care of you today.” If you cannot introduce yourself, you are inviting guesses. Also have your uniform well inscribed: “Dr Adamson Muula, Medical Doctor.” For those that read, they will know that you are the doctor we all want to be. Finally, there is nothing wrong being a nurse. We should not ever think that if a doctor was mistaken to be a nurse then that is the worst insult they have ever suffered. Is it not also prestigious to be a nurse?