Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Doctors Are Human, Too

Two upset doctors in corridor after surgery

Since starting my new job, because I don’t have a full panel of patients yet, I have naturally been seeing more patients belonging to other docs in my clinic when they can’t get an appointment with them.  Most of the time, they are grateful to be seen by me, even though their doc is not available.  But sometimes they come in so angry with their doc for whatever reason it may be, ready to chew my head off:

“He doesn’t listen to me.”
“She made me come in today just to get my refill.”
“He gave me a bogas medicine that doesn’t work.”
“She couldn’t help me, and I doubt you can do anything, too. I don’t know why I even came in.”
“I hate doctors.”

Ok, I get it.  You are mad at your doctor.  Sometimes it’s a legitimate concern, and sometimes it’s a misunderstanding; and ok, so sometimes it’s completely warranted.  But why are you angry with me before you even meet me?  I am a nice person, gosh darn-it.  And I am eager and willing to help you. 

I don’t walk into the exam room mad at my second patient just because the first one gave me a hard time.  I don’t carry that emotion into that next visit with me.  I don’t generalize and think that “all” patients are mean and nasty just because a few are a tad less than courteous.  In the same way, not “all” doctors are mean and nasty just because you had a few who were a tad less than courteous.  We are all people – patients and doctors alike.  We all deserve common courtesy.

We have feelings, too.  It makes our jobs so much harder when we meet patients who are very angry.  It can really make or break our day.  We become doctors because we like taking care of patients, and generally have big hearts.  We care.  Really, we do.  I can’t say we are perfect, because nobody is perfect, but we do care and want to help.

So before you walk into your next doctor’s appointment (especially if it’s a doc you’ve never met before) please remember that doctors are human, too.  


Anonymous said...

Well said!

rlbates said...

Very well said!

Kristina said...

Some patients are suffering from depression caused by their condition. This happens too often. And yes, doctors are doctors because they are passionate about helping, healing and curing people.
Great post!

Anonymous said...

If only this sentiment went the other direction, too -- not all migraineurs are drug-seeking wimps, not all people with a mental illness are narcissistic whiny complainers with no "real" health problems, etc... I'll promise to try even harder to conceal my wariness and disillusionment with doctors if you promise to let go some of those cherished stereotypes.

SeaSpray said...

That's too bad that happens.

Some may not be processing clearly ...but no excuse otherwise.

I can not even imagine doing that to my dear docs. And if I was upset ..I'd want to work it out ..not berate them.

I hope the scale tips filled with considerate patients.

Dr Dave said...

Patients need to learn to be more effective patients no less than physicians need to learn how to be more effective physicians. Patients learning how to ask meaningful questions would be a good place to start.

Alison said...

It's certainly true that no health care provider should suffer any kind of abusive behavior from patients, and pts should do their best to be courteous and give every provider a fair chance. On the other hand, though, remember that in the exam room, the balance of power is heavily weighted toward you as the physician. Pts may have been ridiculed, insulted, stereotyped, ignored, or dismissed as "crazy" by any number of docs before they even landed in your exam room, wearing a skimpy gown, privates exposed to the cold air, steeling themselves for an uncomfortably intimate exam and discussion with someone who literally sometimes has the power to grant or deny them relief and healing from their problem. As someone who's been on both ends of the stethescope, I totally get that you are frustrated when the pt doesn't seem to give you a chance to even please them, but I also understand the almost-PTSD-like bitterness and defensiveness that can settle in to the chronically ill (and especially the mentally ill). My brush with PTSD many years ago in college left a bitter taste in my mouth from all the nurses and docs who insisted every illness or injury was psychogenic because of the PTSD diagnosis. I suffered weeks and months of extra pain and misery from a huge ovarian cyst, a torn meniscus in my knee, and a fractured ulna because several different doctors saw the word "PTSD" and didn't bother looking any further. So, try to imagine yourself in their shoes, wondering "Is she going to take me seriously? Is she going to mock me when I say xyz is bothering me? Will she roll her eyes when I pull out this study from NEJM about my condition? Will I have to start all over in my workup for my chronic condition, costing money I can ill afford? Will she insist on seeing me every month instead of giving me refills on my insulin/SSRI/pain meds/inhaler so that I have to risk losing my job taking at least half a day off every month?"

Sure, they'd do better to catch more flies with honey and make nice to you, rather than risk alienating someone who genuinely needs to help, but from their perspective, being diffident can get you walked all over, and in some ways, they almost don't dare to hope this time will be better lest they suffer yet another disappointment.

Jill of All Trades, MD said...

Alison, your comment truly made me so very sad! Looks like you've been through a lot, and i am so sorry to hear that. Wish you a life full of great health and happiness.

flusteredgrad said...

Well said. Even though I've only volunteered in the ER so far, I've come across patients who are angry to be there. You're right in that they really can break your day if you let them. Great post!