What is a Doctor?
What is a doctor? Sounds like a silly question. It is the person one goes to see when you are sick or want help to stay healthy. The reality is what occurs when one sees that doctor is dependent on what that doctor thinks it means to be a doctor. Here is what I think.
1) A doctor is an individual who went to medical school and a residency to become a physician. There are all kinds of ways of obtaining doctorate degrees in all sorts of fields. I do not intend to diminish the accomplishments of those who earn doctorate degrees in various fields, but I believe when one says, I am going to see “the doctor” it should mean seeing one who has the training as noted above. Numerous health care fields, like nurse practitioners, physical therapists and pharmacists are now awarding doctorate degrees as their standard degree. I think this is confusing to patients and an attempt to obtain a status on par with physicians. There are many different health care providers, all with their individual and critical roles. I disagree with the attempt to blur the lines between the different roles.
2) A doctor has great amount of knowledge. The education of a doctor starts with many years of school (4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and 3+ years of residency) memorizing, learning and experiencing things that give him/her expertise in the field of medicine. Throughout the career of a doctor, the learning never stops. Today with the internet, it seems all one has to do is look up WebMD or Mayo Clinics and one can know as much as a doctor. Certainly, the internet has expanded everyone’s ability to find information, but making a diagnosis or deciding on a treatment is much more involved than simply looking up a list of symptoms and there is the obvious diagnosis and treatment. I wish it were that simple. The fact is that human biology and behavior are far more nuanced than a simple matching of signs and symptoms. While some things in medicine can be solved and resolved with cookbook formulas, much of it cannot and this is where the art of medicine and all those years of training and experience become so critical. It is why a thinking doctor will never be replaced by a one size fits all computer.
3) A doctor is a major influence. Due to all of the education and experience a physician accumulates, society has granted physicians a significant amount of influence and authority. That influence and authority is a great privilege and needs to be treated with even greater respect by the physicians to whom it is granted. I sometimes wonder if many physicians are cognizant of the huge impact their words have on people. A physician’s words and manners can be either soothing and healing or anxiety provoking and hurtful. We doctors need to strive for the first.
4) A doctor is an advisor. I believe the primary role of a physician is to be an advisor. It is my job to listen to the patient, examine as appropriate and analyze all of the available data and then render an opinion as to the appropriate course of action. I do not get upset if a patient does not follow my advice. It is their body and their choice. Some doctors view themselves as THE AUTHORITY, but I believe this is the wrong approach. There is a partnership that exists between a doctor and patient. Each one brings things to the interaction that have to be considered. Each patient approaches the situation from a different context. It is not uncommon for a patient to have information of which I am not aware or had not considered. I value this input from the patient.
5) A doctor is a friend. Over the years, many of my patients have become friends. This is a wonderful aspect of being a family physician. Whether or not I get to know a patient well enough to become a personal friend, my goal with all of my patients is to make them comfortable enough, that no matter the issue, they will be confident that my objective is to give them the same courtesy and rendering of my skills that I would give to my best friend.