Common Stereotypes Often Cloud Patients’ Perception of Physicians

December 12, 2011

It sort of bothers me that patients think that we care more about our comfort than theirs.

Sometimes patients make comments that reflect their perception of physicians, and it often catches me off-guard. It appears to me from these comments, that patients think we are rich, don’t work hard, and think we are “above” our patients.

One day, I got to work in the morning a few minutes before the office opened. I could see through the window that there was a patient already standing outside. As I usually do, I unlocked the front door. Now, it wasn’t raining or cold or otherwise unpleasant outside, so it surprised me when my patient started thanking me profusely. She went on to say that she didn’t expect me to unlock the door because, “most doctors wouldn’t have done that.” Really? I find that hard to believe. If you’re supposed to start seeing patients at 8 a.m. and it’s 7:56 am, why wouldn’t one open the door?

Another patient works for a car dealership - a luxury car dealership. When he asked me what car I had and I said I had an Asian import, his reply was, “What?! But you’re a doctor! You deserve a better car than that. You can get one of our sedans for under $50,000.”

And often, patients are offered appointments on Wednesdays and they are genuinely surprised. “She works on Wednesdays?” Why wouldn’t I work on Wednesdays? OK, I know there is some traditional tennis or golf day, but who can afford that in today’s healthcare system?

If patients see us as rich or snobbish, they are sorely mistaken. Oh, sure there are docs who fit that profile, but by and large we are just hard-working people who are comfortable, but spend a whole lot of working hours to be so.

And it would not be beneath us to get down on our knees to help somebody off with their shoes (presuming we had the time to do so), push a wheelchair, or help someone with their hospital Johnny. It sort of bothers me that patients think that we care more about our comfort than theirs. After all, most of us went into this profession to help others.

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