One of my readers, in response to my recent articles about the qualities of an excellent doctor, wrote, “Respect is a two-way street.” Indeed, it is! Those of you who have followed my blog over the years know that my childhood doctor played a major role in who I was to become.
I don’t know why, but I called Dr Perlman by his first name, Jerome. I was very ill and very scared! I suspect I started using his first name around the time I started getting sick and was in his office frequently. No matter the reason, Jerome never balked, never corrected me. In turn, I never balked when a patient used my first name.
Yes, the title “Doctor” brings with it a certain level of respect at the onset of a relationship; but, realistically, respect should be earned over time. By the same token, the titles “Mr.” and “Mrs.” should also be treated respectfully. In the instance my reader and former patient wrote about today, he was rebuked for calling his doc by her first name. He writes:
“She was a taken back and said that’s Dr. (insert first name). I asked, what do you call me? Her answer was hi or hey. Sorry, not acceptable. If you’re Dr. such and such, my name is Mr. C. Otherwise, you lose the title. Respect is a two-way street. “
In 1984, I used the Mr. and Mrs. designation until I got to know my patients well. In the nineties, I became more relaxed and dropped the Mr. and Mrs. and started using my patients first name from the onset of our relationship. By the turn of the century, my established patients started using my first name.
Yesterday, I wrote about kindness and compassion as key elements of an excellent doctor. Today’s blog is about comfort! Respect is a two-way street and is best when earned. When my patients became comfortable enough with me to drop my title and use my first name, I knew I had finally earned their respect. I know that sounds illogical but the initial respect they showed me was really for the title I had earned, not for the man holding it.
When my patient became comfortable enough to call me by my fist name, I knew I had truly established a caring relationship, a medical home. I knew the comfort I felt in having “Jerome” caring for me and had finally arrived in my journey from a good doc to a great doc. A great doc makes his/her patients comfortable in his/her presence and with his/her care.
If I was Mr. C’s doc, I would have welcomed the transition from the formal “Dr.” to Mr. C’s comfortable “Brenda.” Confusing? Definitely! I told you this was a tough topic to write about.
To make things more confusing, doctors are supposed to keep a professional distance from their patients. I think the idea is that, by keeping a professional and emotional distance, the doctor will make more objective decisions, decisions not influenced by emotions. BULLSHIT! Keeping a professional and emotional distance is what is wrong in medicine today. Maybe it worked in the old days when docs were put on pedestals but not in today’s world.
Docs are taught to care for strangers but caring for those you hold close comes naturally. My office was my home and should have been a place of comfort and security. When you were comfortable enough to drop the title, you were finally home.
A quick story. When patients would call and tell my front desk that they were good friends with “Stu” or “Stewie,” my staff would crack up. No one who knew me used either of the diminutives. While my first name was a welcomed title, diminutives were not.
Initially, give your doc the respect of using his/her title. If and when you become comfortable with your doc and want to transition to a first name basis, ask how he/she feels about it. Your doc might surprise you and realize that he/she has now truly EARNED your respect as both a physician and a valued healthcare partner in your life.
Here’re your jokes for the day from the great Rodney Dangerfield:
“When I was a kid, my parents moved around a lot; but I always found them.”
”What a kid I got! I told him about the birds and the bees and he told me about the butcher and my wife.”
“I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.”
“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”
“My wife’s cooking is so bad the flies fix our screens.”
“I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender.”
“It’s tough to stay married. My wife says no because she’s tired, then stays up and reads her book.”
“Once somebody stole our car. I asked my wife if she saw who it was. She said: “No, but I did get the license number”.