Non-trad volunteers confuse patients

Even though I have to wear this unflattering blue jacket while at the hospital with “VOLUNTEER” in white on it, patients still get confused with who I am.
No big deal, right?
Except, the other night was amusing. I was called a waiter, administration personel (I was walking, looking at the rooms to see if they needed stocking and a patient thought I was checking to see if things were being done correctly), EPA, nurse, and yes-a doctor.
That was a fun night.

Hehe, that’s gotta be interesting at times.
Hence why I picked the polo shirt option where I work. lol. I don’t look anything like the other clinical staff in the ER when I wear that.

I’ve had a couple people refer to me as “doctor” so far at the clinic where I work. The hospital decided the nurses should all wear blue scrubs, and we EMTs wear hunter green scrubs. Even though my badge says EMT in bold letters, people just make assumptions, I guess. My understanding is that the nursing administrators didn’t want anyone accidentally confusing the EMTs with nurses, so we got assigned a different color. Unfortunately, there are so few of us relative to the nurses that we tend to stand out & maybe that is the source of the confusion.

Heh… hate to let an old thread die without a fight!


Here’s what I have to say about being confused for a doc.

Yes! That is so exactly it!

When people are sick ,or in pain, or even just upset, I don’t think they really care who the hell you are. They just want help. If you’re able to check your ego at the door, and just be there for them, I think patients really pick up on that.


Well…my comment was meant to expose people’s, especially that patient’s, preconcieved notions of what a doc should ‘look’ like - a white male wearing glasses and scrubs. In short, a geek.

There’s a good thread on SDN in the resident forum about no MD on their badge. Some of the posters have had to remind patients again and again that, ‘despite’ being black, or a woman, or whatever, they are a doctor.

After I looked at that link, I spent a little time at SDN wading through the rest of that thread. Stereotypes are easy to miss when they don’t hurt you, but I have to admit I feel a little nervous being an old white guy all of the sudden…


I don’t know how other people do it, but my own way of handling my “different-ness” while in medical school was to be REAL upfront about it. I brought my teenage daughter to class with me one day. I showed around pictures of my son’s wedding. I talked about missing an anatomy study session to attend Parents’ Weekend at my other son’s college. My classmates were bemused and I think sort of disarmed by my openness. And I was just too old to care to be self-conscious. That’s the good thing about being a geezer, no apologies necessary!

Funny story: our program has a noon conference where, among other things, we discuss our hospital service. One of our hospital patients is an elderly gentleman whose first name is – well, I can’t tell you but his first name is usually thought to be a girl’s name, not a guy’s name. Of course if you mistook this old guy for a gal he’d beat you up.

Anyway, the attending on the service was reminiscing about the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue,” and he has been referring to this patient as “Our Boy Named Sue.” My young resident colleagues, who weren’t BORN when this song was popular, just looked at him in puzzlement but I and a bunch of the attendings were all laughing.

And one of my chief jobs was to revise the resident on-call manual; I jokingly told everyone that I made the really important phone numbers bigger so that I could read them.

Be yourself, and no one can discount you even if you are an old white guy.


Hi Mary,

I am very new to the idea of attending medical school, but being 47 and having done a bit of research on the subject, I think that your attitude about your “differentness” is just right.

I worked as a Delta Air Lines pilot for several years, starting at age 26. No matter that I was wearing a black suit with gold buttons and stripes, wings, a pilot hat with wings, etc., the passengers usually thought I was a flight attendant.

I just got used to it and tried to keep my sense of humor.

By the way, my husband is a Delta Captain, and he sometimes gets confused with a bellboy and asked to carry older folks’ luggage! (Which he happily does.)

I am so glad you are here to inspire those of us who need it.


This reminds me when I first started going back to school at 36 y/o. I was taking a intro psych class, and the majority of the students were probably half my age. It seemed as though whenever the professor spoke, it was like he was talking directly to me…it was like, we were both on the same wavelength…

I think that returning to school when you are an adult narrows the gap between you and your professor (although it can widen between you and your younger classmates).

At age 50, with receding hairline and some greying hair, I undertook an informal post-bac program at a local university.

Since all labs I had ever attended until then required lab coats, I showed up in my first physics labs donning the ‘usual white lab coat’. In this particular lab however, lab coats were NOT required.

The teaching assistant, not knowing me, politely smiling, mekely walks over to me and says: “Do you expect us to be wearing lab coats, Sir?”

You guessed it. He thought I was the course professor.

Since then, I have on innumerable occasions told students: I’m not the TA; I’m not the professor. These situations always bring on a chuckle!