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Mohamed from Maldives asks the following question: "Mr. Smith and his son are driving in a car. They get into an accident. Mr. Smith dies and his son rushed into the hospital and the surgeon said I cant operate on him because he is my SON. How is that?"


Hi Mohamed, this is an old, old riddle which is slowly disappearing from usage. Because of changes in society, people are becoming more and more likely to recognize the answer quickly. I'll explain what I mean in a minute, but first, the answer to your question:

The surgeon was his mother.

I first heard this riddle when I was a child in the early seventies. At the time, although I didn't know it, the percentage of doctors in the US who were female was less than 10%, and the percentage who were surgeons was even smaller.

In addition, every book I read that talked about doctors, always used "he" as the pronoun, and if there was a picture it was always something like the picture shown here.

Lab coat, stethoscope, maybe a black bag, but most importantly, guaranteed, it was a picture of a male doctor. True, there were female doctors, and female surgeons, when I was a child, but nobody ever pictured doctors as being female. Thus, the riddle was a bit tricky. Your brain automatically pictures a surgeon as male, because that's how you've been conditioned over time to picture surgeons!

In the US, where I live, things have changed a lot since the days when I was a kid. Now the percentage of surgeons who are female is significantly higher. Of course, it depends on the field of surgery; OB/GYN surgeons are almost 50% female. Other areas have a much smaller percentage of women in them. Pediatric surgery is just a little under 20% female.

So we don't tend to automatically assume that a surgeon is male, and the riddle seems less perplexing.

The percentage of women in surgical fields varies depending on where you live. In your part of the world, although there is a very high rate of females who attend medical school (I think I read that in one of the neighboring countries to yours, more than 50% of students enrolled in medical schools in 2015 were female), a very small percentages of them go into surgery. I'm not sure why that is; it would be an interesting sociological question to explore! Regardless, since the percentage of female surgeons is much smaller, the riddle didn't seem quite so obvious to you.

Someday, probably, this riddle will stop being told altogether, and children will learn the riddle by reading sites like this one, and they'll say, "What? People didn't know that women can be doctors?"

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