Riddle Me This: Who Is the Surgeon?

female surgeon operating
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Riddles can expose more than just a punchline. They can tell us a lot about our hidden biases, and can be used to give us hope that change is happening and future generations won't have our same prejudices.

The Riddle - Who is the Surgeon?

A young boy and his father are on their way home from soccer practice when a distracted driver crosses the center line and hits them head on. The father dies at the scene of this horrible car accident, but the boy is still alive when the emergency medical technicians arrive.

The boy is transported to the hospital in an ambulance and he is taken immediately into surgery. But the surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, "Call Dr. Baker stat to the operating room. I can't operate on this boy - he is my son!"

The question: Who is the surgeon?

Kids vs. Adults - Who Best Knows the Answer to the Surgeon Riddle?

That riddle has been around for awhile - I remember hearing it years ago. It has stumped people for a very long time. The father died in the car accident, hmmm...

It was posed again recently by the producers at Good Morning America. A group of adults were asked, they were the general public, just people on the streets of New York. The great majority could not come up with the right answer. But then the producers asked a group of fifth graders from a school in NYC - and the majority of them got it right. Kids. Kids without pre-formed ideas about who a surgeon should be.

Interestingly, the kids who got it wrong did have some unique answers - answers the adults didn't proffer.  They suggested it might have been the boy's step-dad, or that the boy's parents were both dads.

But no - the real answer is that the surgeon was the boy's....mother.

Changing Images of Medical Practitioners - Surgeons of Every Kind

GMA turned to an expert on gender issues to comment.

Her comments reflected the findings from the two generations who were asked the riddle. Boys and girls today understand better that both men and women can do a job as long as they have the skills, without regard to gender.

I share this story for a couple of reasons. It's a healthcare question, reminding us that we can't leap to conclusions about someone's capabilities to help us based on their gender (learn more about choosing the right doctor for you.)

But it also gives me hope that a new generation has embraced the concept of skills being more important than gender. They are growing up in a world where their doctor or nurse practitioner is just as likely a woman as a man, or even more likely. They are used to trusting women as their doctors the same as their parents and grandparents trusted male doctors.

One day, I hope they will also embrace the idea of being empowered to help themselves by taking responsibility for their healthcare decisions, too.