Dr. Michael Ziehm’s First Name Was a Man’s Last Name

‘Kind of Awkward’: Doctors Find Themselves on a First-Name Basis in the Hospital

Doctors and patients sometimes have very different cultural expectations of first names, from one doctor’s perspective. For instance, surgeons, like their patients, typically don’t speak up in a noisy hospital setting.

But Dr. Michael Ziehm says he had two options when writing up his notes for an obstetrics patient. He could write down the patient’s first name or he could simply call her by her last name.

“When I went to the obstetric unit I saw a guy’s notes,” Ziehm recalls, “and he was just writing in the patient’s first name, ‘Carol,’ without any explanation. I said, ‘Who’s Carol?’ And he said, ‘She’s the patient I’m having today.’ He used the patient’s last name. But I said, ‘Oh okay.’”

A bit of awkwardness and misunderstanding were part of the deal for Ziehm. He had written up the notes as he would on any patient, as he thought, a man writing notes for a woman. He just didn’t know it, or thought it should have tipped him off that the note was written by a man.

After all, it’s not uncommon for a man to identify as a woman as a way to disguise himself from women. While a woman’s first name is traditionally her first name—and that’s how Ziehm had used it—a man’s first name might be his last name (which is how Carol was written up, after all) or his middle name.

“It’s not just an issue of doctors being male and female, it’s a cultural thing,” says Ziehm, an anesthesiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals

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