15 December 2017

Status woe: what’s in a title?


I’m stuck in my cattle-class seat, watching some interminable movie while winging my way to the other side of the country.

It’s two hours into the flight and I haven’t yet heard the unmistakable sounds of babies crying. Must be a Thursday flight outside school holidays.

Thirsty, I ask for some water from a passing flight attendant.

Then the flight announcement crackles. “Would anyone who is a doctor please identify themselves to the cabin crew? We have an emergency on board.”

My first thought is: “Thank the deity that I never use my title when I travel.”

The second thought is: “What if there is a real emergency and I might have to (gulp) … save a life?”

Fortunately, I don’t have to search my cowering conscience for long, as a moment later the intercom crackles again.

“Please disregard the previous announcement as the situation has resolved”.

This leaves me to wonder if the “emergency” was someone at the pointy end of the plane throwing a fit over the choice of rose wine offered, or if the movie selection had made someone gag into their spicy vegetable tagine with giant pearl couscous?

Later in the queue to the toilets I wait behind a gaggle of middle-aged paediatricians who owned up to not volunteering either. We all share a guilty giggle.

Gone are the days when if one identified themselves as a doctor to help in an inflight emergency one would be virtually guaranteed an upgrade on the next flight or a nice bottle of bubbles, plus expressions of gratitude from flight staff.

These days one might be checking the fine print on one’s medical indemnity before waiting gingerly for 10 minutes to see if some other medical sacrificial lamb offers their services.

Memories of news reports of an anaesthetist having to drain a pneumothorax on an international flight then being sued in the aftermath certainly don’t help the Good Samaritan drive.

Not that I’ve been completely heartless in the past. I once had to abandon my shopping trolley on the way to the supermarket in order to run to a pedestrian’s aid who had been knocked over by a tram. I was joined by a radiation oncologist who had been passing on a bicycle.

Fortunately, on that occasion, the victim did not require any major resuscitation as my last intubation was over 25 years ago on an ED rotation. And last time I’d looked there had not been a Guedel airway in my fossil handbag.

Another time, we were headed away on our honeymoon when I had to run to someone’s aid who had collapsed in the check-in queue. As I anxiously approached the man already doing CPR, he asked me hopefully if I was an anaesthetist as he was a renal physician.

He looked dreadfully disappointed when I said that I was merely a GP. Nonetheless, we valiantly carried on until the ambos arrived. My only payoff was being recognised by another passenger in the duty free later on that day. Alas there was no complimentary bottle of Dubonnet for me.

So where is the payoff these days for having the title “Doctor”? Chiropractors, dentists, nutritional therapists and psychologists all use it.

I shy away from using it when booking anything. Better not to risk the sniff of disdain from the major domo if one is trying to secure a table at the hottest restaurant in town.

And it’s best to pretend that one is anything but a doctor when asking for quotes from tradespeople.

One of the ironies of GP life is that a tradesperson often assumes we are made of money when they are probably making more than most of us.

Sometimes I feel like saying: “Hey, you’re confusing me with the neurosurgeon/anaesthetist who lives in that mansion three blocks down the street.” Followed by: “And don’t ask me for a script of anything or a free consult, just because you can.” Or, “Why do you think that I’m loaded when you can see the cracks in my walls and my garden that looks like the Nullarbor, but with weeds.”

In fact, I thoroughly regret that I’d let slip to our neighbours that I was a GP when we moved into our current home, as it opened the door to requests for scripts and house calls (all bulk billed, of course!) every two weeks for years.

Anyhow, parched and stuck in my standard economy class seat, with its standard space allocation of 44.1cm, I wriggle my fortunately less than standard sized (Asian) posterior and consider that maybe I should have identified myself as a doctor. Perhaps that bottle of water might have been a little bit more forthcoming.

Dr Dawn Oi is a GP in metropolitan Melbourne who hones her literary skills by writing referral letters all day 

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2 Comments on "Status woe: what’s in a title?"

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Lou Lewis
Lou Lewis
11 months 25 days ago
Great article and if I may I would like reply with an anecdote. A few years, just before the 2000 Olympics, my uncle and his wife (both doctors) were going on a holiday to Scotland and by coincidence I was of the same plane going to London ,then to Rome, for a Boxing Medical Commission meeting leading up to the Sydney Olympics. Whilst on the plane, six hours into the trip, there was a medical emergency and they asked for doctors to assist. As my uncle and aunt were flying using their title of ’ Dr ‘ they felt obliged… Read more »
9 months 23 days ago

Yes Lou, absolutely my experience also and that’s why I wrote this article! Great that you read and enjoyed, also empathised with it. I think it just reflects the general down grading of us doctors in general, unless someone wants something free with no strings of course.