The Arrogant Physician
A friend gave me feedback a few days ago, "Some people say you are arrogant, but I tell them ‘No—he is just self-confident.’" He followed, "We need that in a doctor, but, you know, there is a fine line between those two characteristics."
Uff da! That threw me for a bit. After thinking about it, I took it as an honest comment and a chance for me to improve myself. A physician/philosopher once said: "A true friend will help you grow by pointing out your warts. Instead of getting angry, one should take it as an opportunity to get better."
What is arrogance? The dictionary’s definition is harsh: "An offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride." I see it in people who treat others poorly, especially those who are lower on some hierarchal level. Examples would include an employer who expects sexual favors of some kind, a prison guard who harasses a prisoner hatefully, a teacher or parent who supervises a student or child unjustly, or, to make the point, a doctor who treats a nurse or patient poorly. I believe nothing indicates the true color of an individual more than how he/she treats someone who may be lower on the totem pole.
I have seen examples of physicians acting this way: when a surgeon threw a scalpel across the room; when a specialist spoke negatively to the patient about a primary care physician; and when a surgical resident treated a young inner-city woman, infected by gonorrhea, with disdain and contempt. I am not proud that my profession probably deserves some of its reputation for being arrogant. On the other hand, part of the value provided by a physician comes from the sense that she or he is competent and knowledgeable. A humble physician is one thing, but an unsure and uncertain doctor is another.
Perhaps sometimes I have come off as a know-it-all. I need to work on that because I do not know it all. In fact, it seems the more I do know, the more I realize my inadequacies. My folks came from humble backgrounds, and I was drilled on the Golden Rule. The last thing I want to do is to portray myself as a physician who thinks he is more important than anyone else. Rather, I would like to be known as someone who is both competent and cares.
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