In the Life of a Fickle Intern

December 7, 2011


Filed under: Daily Lowdown — dailymedicine @ 21:47

Growing up as an Asian girl in the south, it has been etched into my brain that I have to always use “Sir” and “Ma’am” when I talk to adults as a form of politeness. Whether or not they really are “Sirs” or “Ma’am’s” is a whole different issue. To me, it’s just a way of communicating.

Moving slightly up north, I have had the weirdest reactions to these innocuous phrases. I have been asked by almost EVERY attending that I’ve worked with if I was in the military. One of my attendings in the ED a few months ago actually got semi-offended that I was calling him “Sir” because he said it made him feel old. For the rest of that one shift, he wouldn’t stop calling me “Madam.” Point taken. However, a few days ago, while answering a question with “Sir,” I was literally lectured on why I shouldn’t use that phrase anymore. It was not in a mean or intimidating way, but Dr. S was pretty serious during our conversation.

Here is what I’ve learned. Though medicine is very hierarchical, as an intern, I’m technically a doctor. Calling my attendings by “Doctor” is appropriate, but when I add that “Sir” or “Ma’am” to the conversation, I automatically submit myself to being inferior. Dr. S and my fellow told many anecdotes of how they both learned this lesson so much later in their training and how important it is for me to learn it now.  It’s some sort of power struggle.  By adding “Sir” or “Ma’am” to a conversation with a colleague, I automatically place myself at a disadvantage and some people may not take me seriously.

How crazy is all of this? It’s apparent that these people are not from the south! Though it is a bit of a stretch and old habits die hard, as the impressionable intern that I am, I will try really, really hard to stop calling my colleagues “Sirs” and “Ma’am’s”. Luckily this rule only applies to other doctors.

The next thing you know, they’ll tell me I’m too nice! Geez.




Blog at