Doctors have an image problem. People see us one way. Perhaps more importantly, we see ourselves one way. And it seems to start at a young age.
I had a premedical student in my office recently – A friend of a friend interested in a career as a doctor. And as I often do I like to ask the question, ‘what do you think medicine will be like when you’re done training?’ It’s something of an exercise. I usually get an answer involving some combination of hospital rounds, physical examinations, telephone calls, and busy office visits. Occasionally I’ll get rehearsed nonsense about black leather bags and house calls. The young woman in my office didn’t fail to deliver.
What does the next generation of physician know? They only know what they hear from Uncle Joe the ENT. They know what they see on sitcoms and pharma ads and what they synthesize from their own encounters with physicians. Premedical students understand what doctors do based on medical school curricula. They know what friends, neighbors and grandparents tell them. They know the 20th century construct of medicine. On all levels we propagate a dated view of our role.
What physicians do and how we do it is changing faster than the public’s ability to adjust its perception. We need to do a better job of helping the next generation of doctors understand how their position will be very, very different than what they believe. The medical profession will have enough to deal with in the coming years – Adding unmet expectations to a shifting landscape won’t help matters.