I took the bait.
Over at Better Health, Dr. Val Jones has posted “In Defense Of Doctors: Why We Act Like Jerks, And How To Handle Us When We Do.”
A prefatory editor’s note gives the heads-up: “This post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. We sincerely hope that our colleagues are not offended by the use of the term “jerk” to describe physician behavior. If you are a jerk, please feel free to leave a nasty complaint in the comment section of this post. Thank you!”
Maybe they’re worrying about the wrong readers. I’m not a doctor, but the whole piece rubbed me the wrong way.
Doctors: Yes, you are exhausted and have huge responsibilities. We see that your training is grueling and that you work in a system that taxes your time and attention in ways both petty and profound.
We know that the natural selection of medical education rewards competitive drive, intellectual acumen, super-human stamina, and a whole host of other traits that may not always co-exist with warmth, patience, or a fondness for the touchy-feely side of life.
We know that you do all this in the face of consequences so unimaginable that most of us can’t bear to contemplate them.
We even know—as Dr. Val is kind enough not to say outright—that patients are more than capable of being first-class jerks.
But the remainder of the post—which is not “tongue-in-cheek” at all—makes it sound like it’s on me to keep a doctor’s jerkiness in check. I should avoid bringing my doctor “trivia” and “tangential stories,” for example, or disagreeing in anything but the friendliest manner. If I’m not scrupulously “compliant,” do I unleash the Hulk?
I recognize that this is a post in the “where doctors are coming from” genre. Trying to understand medical thinking and culture is, in fact, one of the reasons that I hang out as much as I do on social media.
But if the system is so rigged to produce and reward jerks, I have to wonder: Why is my best option as a patient to learn the proper care and feeding of the jerks it produces?
Plenty of doctors out there are anything but jerks. I’m lucky enough to have them in my life as physicians, and others as friends and family members. Sadly, it did take some walking away from jerks to get here.
As a patient, it’s my job to be responsible and respectful. As a human being, it’s my job to be responsible and respectful. I do my best to acknowledge non-jerks with recommendations, kind words, and positive survey responses. I try to remember that anyone can have a rotten day.
It’s NOT my job, though, to tiptoe around someone’s jerkiness, or to explain it away, or to enable it, or to own it.
It would be great to see fewer jerks in the world. How about this? Don’t act like a jerk.