Female doctors mistaken for nurses, told to wear badges

By Michael Woodhead

27 Aug 2019

Junior female doctors are being advised to wear ‘doctor’ badges to stop them being misidentified by patients and other healthcare staff.

Role misidentification is a universal and stressful problem for female physicians in training, according to the authors of a US study that found 100% of female residents reported being regularly misidentified by patients and their families.

The survey of 112 internal medicine residents at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, found that 50% of junior doctors overall reported experiencing role misidentification on a daily or weekly basis, with female residents almost four times more likely than males [risk ration 3.63) to be misidentified as a non-physician.

All female residents (100%) and 45% of male residents reported being misidentified by patients and their families. Female residents were also more likely to be misidentified by nurses (82% misidentified vs 18% of male residents); support staff (70% vs 15%), other residents (42% vs 5%) and attending physicians (35% vs 7% of males).

Writing in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study authors said the high rates of gender-based role misidentification show that female residents are still being evaluated by patients and other staff according to stereotypes.

Misidentification is a threat to good patient care and also leads to loss of credibility for female doctors, they said.

“Frequent role misidentification of female physicians may contribute to a lesser sense of belonging, a perception of a lack of self-efficacy for career advancement, and increased burnout,” they wrote.

In response to the problem the Brigham and Women’s Hospital has distributed badges to all new medical residents with their occupational role prominently displayed.

Early feedback showed that 82% of female residents said they were more likely to be correctly identified as a physician when wearing the badge, and 93% said their daily work experience had improved as a result.

“Role identifying badges should be worn by all trainee and faculty physicians to improve their role recognition by patients and other hospital staff,” they recommended.

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