I am a person of color. I identify as Black and West Indian, though there are some other ethnicities mixed in there. I am 29 years old, and am often told that I look much younger than I am. Lastly, I am a doctor of audiology: a healthcare professional who can help you with your hearing and balance needs. I provide hearing tests and hearing aids, among other things, to a wide variety of patients. I love what I do, and have been told by many patients that I am good at what I do. However, there are some people who are shocked by my title.
For every appointment, I call my patients in, introduce myself as “Dr. Timmons, one of the audiologists here,” and briefly explain what appointment type they are scheduled for that day. Most people say “nice to meet you” or simply agree with why they are here. Then there are the patients that give me “the look.” Their eyebrows shoot up and their lips part slightly as you can see the surprise flash quickly across their faces. As quickly as that moment passes, I am just as quickly put into defensive mode.
Sometimes, that is the end of the interaction and we go about the appointment as originally planned. For some patients, however, there are the questions and statements that irk me to my core. “YOU are a doctor?” “Your parents must be SO proud!” “I just can’t get over how YOUNG you are!” All while I stand by and do the old “nod and smile” while trying to get us back on track.
This brings me to my point. It can be so infuriating as a professional to have your credentials questioned in this way. I am never sure if it is because of my ethnicity, my age, or both. I could even throw in the fact that I am a woman, but again, I can never be sure. I went to school for eight years to earn the right to call myself a doctor. After four years of undergraduate work at The University of Massachusetts, I went on to another four years at Salus University to earn my doctorate in audiology. I spent countless hours in the classroom learning everything from anatomy and psychoacoustics to how a hearing aid works, and then spent even more hands-on hours in the clinic and at various rotations perfecting my skills. I earned these credentials, and who you see me as on the outside should not make my title come as a surprise.
Now most of the time, these comments are said kindly, and I can tell that whoever is speaking them into existence is truly trying to compliment me on my accomplishments. And to these interactions, I just brush it off and move on. Other interactions, unfortunately, stick with me. I had one patient in particular that I remember vividly. I called her in as I always do, and when I explained who I was and what our plans were for that day, she looked almost offended, as if I was lying to her. She began to laugh and said “YOU are the doctor? I just cannot believe that. There is no way that you could be a doctor.” She then tried to spin her reaction in a positive light by continuing on to say “your parents must be so proud, how much you must have gone through to get to this point! I mean, for them to have a doctor in the family!” In that brief interaction, she judged me based on my age, ethnicity, and her prejudice about how I must have been raised. She felt it necessary to comment on how hard my upbringing must have been and assumed that I was the only doctor (or, as I interpreted it, the only educated person) in my family. In that moment, I found myself, again, nodding and smiling. I was shocked and appalled by her reactions towards me, but I was too stunned to give a response. We went about the appointment as originally planned, but my guard was up the entire time.
As I write this, I am hoping that the take away for my readers can be one of self reflection. I am hoping that you are able to evaluate how you interact with different professionals you encounter, and remember that regardless of who they may seem to be to you, they still hold the credentials that they have and earned the right to call themselves whatever their title may be. I hope that you aren’t quick to assume that all people of color in a position that required higher education are “the first in their families” or anything other than accomplished in their own right. And I hope that you can learn from this that ANYONE can achieve their dreams, regardless of race, age, gender, or any other factor that you may have assumed was limiting in the past.