Casey Sharpe, Medical Student, 07:13PM Aug 25, 2012
Medical Student, University of Texas Medical Branch
A life in medicine is a peculiar one, and we who pursue its course are also peculiar.
It seems to me that physicians, more than most other professionals, carry egos the size of watermelons on their shoulders. In a sense, this is the type selected for by the career itself -- confident, successful, achievement-driven people are the ones admitted to medical schools. As a group, we are predisposed to pride from the start.
Then we struggle fervently through training, each day acquiring another fragment of the physician's fabled knowledge. The frenzy continues for several years until a day comes when we are considered capable of functioning independently, and this is a great triumph.
But when we finally arrive at our objective, the nature of our pride has evolved. We have now fulfilled the most monumental achievement of our lives, and we've obtained knowledge so powerful that many people will trust us with their lives.
So maybe our arrogance is justified. Maybe we're entitled to some arrogance. Don't you think?
It's true that some patients actually prefer an extraordinarily confident doctor, and invite arrogance if it coincides with exceptional skills. Others have argued that the public may mistake a physician's competence for arrogance. Nonetheless, as the public's trust in our profession has declined in recent years, patients are increasingly put off by what many consider an exaggerated, unwarranted sense of self-importance and infallibility.
Now, I think this view of physicians is often unfair, but it's probably a reaction that stems from decades of unchecked arrogance. In any case, arrogant physicians do more than just contribute to the eroding public opinion of our profession. It seems sensible to me that we also consider the potential dangers such behaviors pose to patients.
In today's medical culture, the debate seems to be so often about who is right, rather than what is best for patients. The charge to care for people and ease suffering has been cast down by an egotist's charge to be correct. This battle of egos is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it leads to the best outcome for patients. In my view, however, it's indicative of a system that has lost touch with its fundamental purpose.
As a medical student, I mean only to urge my peers to take note of these tendencies as we progress through training. The arrogance we perceive in our role models need not be a model for our own behavior -- this is another trap worth avoiding.