One of the most nagging questions that I find arises from having women in medicine is: how to open and walk through doors.

Seriously. Anyone who’s at all familiar with academic medicine knows that there’s a set pattern for walking through the hallways and into your patients’ rooms: The attending goes first (unless he doesn’t know where he is, in which case the resident responsible for this patient points the way), followed by any fellows, followed by the residents in order of seniority/relevance to this particular patient, followed by the medical students, third years at the back. This works smoothly, until a senior male resident decides to open the door for his female juniors to walk through. Now he’s at the back of the gaggle, and of course the attending has a question for him immediately.

In a large group, seniority tends to predominate, and doors are opened and held by the people as they walk up to them, regardless of gender. It gets trickier when you’re one-on-one: female student/intern accompanying a male attending/senior. Now what? I never know whether the man I’m working with feels obliged to open doors, which I appreciate, or doesn’t pay attention to that old-fashioned rule, in which case I’m quite capable of getting my own doors. The tricky part is if I’m following a doctor, and he’s the only one who knows whether he intends to turn right or left after we get out of the stairwell, and then he opens the door. . . I’ve perfected a little dance step for moving through the door and semi-bowing appreciation, and then slipping neatly to the side, so he can resume the lead toward wherever he intends to go. (It’s kind of like the step for weaving in a Scottish set.)

Dr. Mark was probably the most chivalrous doctor I’ve met in the last year and a half. He opened and held every door for me, every time: car door, hospital door, elevator door, stair door, patient’s door, office door, examining room door, OR door. (Which reminds me of Tolkien’s observation that, setting aside its meaning, the phrase cellar door is the most euphonious combination in the English language.) After a few days with him I realized that it would save a lot of time if I would plan on him opening the doors, and thus slow down and not collide with him when he went to do so. After two and a half weeks of this, I was getting used to the arrangement.

The Indian cardiologists and fellows have no such ideas. I’m working on getting back into the groove of staying in the medical student’s proper position, half a step behind.

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