The type of doctor I don’t want to be

He marches in the door, leaving a metaphorical trail of dust and debris in his wake. The elderly patient must not even be sure what consulting room his doctor has walked into. He emerges into view ten seconds behind, shuffling slowly with a gait aid. The doctor is already seated, looking at his papers and seemingly busy. He motions without looking up for the patient to sit and starts with his barrage of questions.

His manner is inpatient and dismissive. He’s the doctor, he knows everything about you already. He will choose what he wants to tell you, and assume you cannot know any better. The consult is short, the doctor had already decided what the patient needed, and once the plan is regurgitated it is time to bid adieu. The doctor has already clocked off, he’s busily writing notes and it’s time for the patient to go. But the patient doesn’t know. He’s waited out there for hours and has only seen this person for five minutes. Surely it’d be a longer consult, right? There was barely an introduction, he said something about the scans and suddenly it’s over? He’s not even sure he understands what the management is. He quietly and patiently sits there, waiting for a conversation that will never come. Instead, the doctor curtly says “You can go,” a hint that his presence is no longer welcome in this white, sterile room. And so the gentleman hoists himself up, politely says his thanks and shuffles back out. Cue next patient.

I’m not joking, this is something I have witnessed. As I have said in my previous post (A fly on the wall), medical students often go unnoticed in a bustling and crowded hospital. Whilst I made it out to be demoralising then, in this piece I’d like to share why it can be a gift. See, it allows us to experience and observe patient encounters in its raw honesty. It allows us to be privy to some of the most intimate moments of a person’s life, and gives us the opportunity to learn as invisible spectators.

I have encountered many amazing role models throughout my experience. Beautiful bedside manners, pinpoint diagnosis accuracies and enough charm to knock your socks off. People who take the extra minute to comfort the patient, to answer seemingly obvious questions and remain compassionate in the face of aggression. I have gained insight into what a good doctor is, and no doubt that is what I will aspire to become. However, I have also seen the types of practitioners I don’t want to be. The anecdote above describes simply one example, but interactions like this happen commonly, daily. It can be hard to judge, was he having a bad day? Did something happen in his personal life? Or he is rushed so off his feet and behind schedule that he genuinely has no time but to get to the point? All are valid excuses that we can empathise with. Doctors are humans too and completely fallible in every sense of the word.

But what concerns me are those who are not having a bad day, who are not struggling internally and who are not so busy they cannot afford common courtesies. The people who forget that being a medical professional is also in a sense customer service, and the way we behave can alter a person’s entire perspective on their experience. Yes, you may have all the expertise and knowledge to diagnose and treat the person. But that is not what patients come back for. Whenever I hear someone describe a doctor, their praise and admiration is more focused on the attitude and care they felt they received. “He’s a lovely person,” “She took care of generations of my family,” “He is the nicest man,” all compliments focusing on the person themselves. People may not always remember the medical jargon thrown at them during a consult, but they will always remember how they felt as they walked out that door. Of course, niceties cannot excuse inadequacy and needs to be paired with appropriate medical knowledge, otherwise charming people can get away with murder. I think everything I have said so far can be summarised in one phrase. Do not forget your empathy.

The parent who is about to lose their child, do not forget the pain they must be fraught with as you deliver the death sentence. The person who came for news regarding suspicious shadows on their scans, do not forget the anxiety and fear that fills them with dread. The woman who is asking you question after question regarding her seemingly normal pregnancy, do not forget her nerves and stress as a first time mother. The things that we as medical professionals become desensitised to, do not forget that it is a privilege. We have the unique opportunity of having people at our mercy during their most vulnerable times, thus a tiny piece of kindness and patience can go a long way. It is a cliche, but “do unto others as you would have then do unto you.” Because one day, we will all be the person who is shuffling into the room, nervously awaiting for what, or who we may have to confront.

I do not mean to preach to people far more qualified than me on how to do their job, nor am I condemning an entire community of professionals. These are merely things I have witnessed from my very few years in this industry, I am sure that I still approach many topics with a naivety and idealism that perhaps may not exist in a few years time. My friends and I have joked about the cynism and desensitisation that could consume us all, but I have met so many more amazingly kind, sincere and warm doctors than the example I described here. I am certain that such negative interactions are only a minority, but regardless may we try to treat everyone we encounter with the respect we all deserve.


39 thoughts on “The type of doctor I don’t want to be

  1. Bless you for having the connection to yourself, and to have created such a strong sense of your future doctor self. Your personal leadership and your example to others will make a difference, even if it is not obvious. Wishing you much success on your journey!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The reality is that such people, in every field of work exists and the medical industry is no different. Often the people who are doing it don’t even realise it. We can only live by our own codes and hope that the majority of people feel the same way

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I am very sorry for your loss and I hope that you still have some memories of positive experiences with the healthcare system. I wish you the very best and that you have a great year.

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  2. Empathy and compassion will be your greatest qualities as a doctor. Fortunately my doctor is this way but I left a doctor years ago who was not a good doctor. As we age we become more vulnerable and lose the confidence to make the decision to find a better person for our doctor. I like your goals. Go well.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m heartened to know people like you – those with empathy – are still gravitating toward the medical profession. Never underestimate the value to the patient and their family of warmth, compassion and empathy. Thank you for shining a light on these skills.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for the support. I like to believe that overall most people in any profession have empathy and respect for others. It may not seem important to some but it really is a core principle of what it means to be human

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    1. Well I hope that you are never in a situation where you need medical attention and encounter an inconsiderate doctor. Thank you for the read, I do hope to practise what I preach and live out my own example.

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  4. I have experienced that myself many time, both with doctors and nurses. They walk so fast that I end up standing in a corridor lost and not knowing where to go. It’s certainly something that can easily be avoided! I hope you are able to show a more caring side to your patients in the busyness of the hospital system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think in certain cases the doctors are so used to running around during ward rounds they forget what a normal speed is whilst consulting. I’ve certainly been on rounds where if I don’t keep up, no one turns around to even look at me. Luckily, I tend to be a fast walker myself! I really hope that I do not become a hypocrite and turn into the very thing I dislike, hopefully being aware is the first step!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I just found a new GP, an Osteopath. He took time to talk to me and to listen to me during a simple, routine annual physical (which hasn’t been very annual for me). My blood work came back after the second visit, and his nurse called me to let me know my cholesterol is high. She said, “The doctor will have me call in some medicine for that if you will take it.” HE LISTENED TO ME AND RESPECTED MY RIGHTS AND MY OWN WAY OF DOING THINGS! (Of course I said no thank you, I would handle it naturally.) I have also experienced the exact opposite where a doctor told me I had to have surgery and told me not to bother coming back when I said I would get a second opinion

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad that he respected your wishes and honestly certain medications such as that for cholesterol are over-prescribed. Second opinions are perfectly valid and I am sorry he was so rude to you. I hope that you continue to have positive experiences with the medical field and best wishes!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I hope so too. I believe that overall the medical field contains incredibly compassionate and warm-hearted people, and these principles have been passed down from generation to generation. I

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What an incredible post Doc. This should be required reading for all interns. I
    Have witnessed some horrific actions as a nurse. However I never played dead and no one liked me for it. I was actually prescribed prostate medication by a urologist once for IC. The urologist referred me to his nurse to explain everything to me as he said he was the Dr. and didn’t have time. I was blessed to be referred to a world renown Urologist who treats people from all over the world. He is kind, empathetic and wants to share any new discoveries when ever they come along. I will tell you I have written letters and recommended him for Dr. of the year as well. He is a blessing to me as I have been in remission for years. So please go forth as a physician and remember this post and share it with the interns you eventually work with you. May God bless your path for the compassion you have. Love 💕 Joni

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for all the support. I am sorry you have had some negative experiences, but it’s truly great you have found a knowledgeable and empathetic doctor. Congratulations on being in remission, I am so happy for you! I hope that you have an amazing year and wish you all the best 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much Dr. I am so blessed to have found a wonderful Dr. and never take him for granted. After reading your post to your father I am sure you are an amazingly caring and giving Dr. with great empathy. Thanks again. Have a blessed day. Love 💕 Joni

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful doctor.
    Bedside manner is incredibly important. I’ve had doctors who’ve ushered me from the room without explanation, & I’ve had a wonderful doctor who took the time to explain my condition and tell me how I could help myself.
    I’ve not felt the need to see the specialist again. All I needed was compassion and the tools to aid my own illness. He changed my life, I’m sure you’ll do the same one day. Best of luck for your future. ☺️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are uncaring people where ever we go, we can only hope that whatever field people work in they remember to respect others and always empathise with those who are struggling.

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  8. Thank you for your early wisdom. The kindest thing my doctor ever did was to say “I have always wondered why you are the only person I know who doesn’t know how wonderful you are” as a prelude to discussing my extreme weight. Kindness, humanity, connection—it is what we all need to hear the rest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is such a beautiful remark and what a sweet sentiment. It can be hard to discuss sensitive topics that make people feel vulnerable, so approaching it with care and compassion seems simple but is necessary. Sometimes people forget that and it’s such a shame.

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