Doctoring assumptions

Listening to acting Prime Minister Tony Ryall talk to Jamie McKay on The Farming Show yesterday I was reminded of a conundrum which did the rounds about 30 years ago:

A father and his son were involved in an accident and both were very seriously injured. They were taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance and admitted to the emergency department. A general surgeon was summoned to treat the father and a peadiatric surgeon was called for the child.

The surgeon, took one horrified look at the wee boy and said, “That’s my son.”

Who was the surgeon?

If you can’t work it out, listen to Tony explain about the rural bonding scheme for medical graduates.

If you still can’t work it out, the explanation is after the break.

Thirty years ago people usually started by suggesting either the driver or surgeon was the boy’s step father; or the child had been adopted and the surgeon was the birth father.

I hope it doesn’t take as long now for people to get the right answer – the surgeon was the boy’s mother.

I was reminded of that conundrum because when Tony was talking about the bonding scheme he referred to the doctor as she. That would have been most unusual 30 years ago when he would have been the pronoun used to generalise about the medical profession.

Even though there are probably a similar number of women as men in medicine now, it’s still common for people generalising about someone in an occupation which used to be a male preserve to refer to he rather than she.

Whether Tony’s choice of she was deliberate or accidental, it’s a sign of linguistic and social progress.

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