If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I realized I don't like my doctor.

I've had a minor health concern that has required me to visit my doctor on several occasions in the past few months.  I was never particularly crazy about her but these visits have made me realize that I really don't like her.

As far as I can tell she's a fine doctor.  She has all the credentials she needs; has yet to steer me wrong; always answers my questions; and is generally quite pleasant.  It is not her doctoring skills that turn me off but rather her demeanor.

The multiple visits have made me realized how much of her interactions with me are set patterns. She enters the room with a specific tone of voice (very chummy, as if we're close friends) and exchanges a pleasantry.  Each visit I get a very weak and limp handshake.  (FYI, I'm someone who greatly respects personal space--I won't touch you if you don't want to be touched--but if you offer me a body part I go all the way.  I don't do the half handshake or the fake hug or the air kiss). Her tone then quickly switches to concerned. She slowly and calmly explains what the day's visit is about and what she will be doing.  Everything is couched in positive and rather vague terms, so I won't worry.  (I'm not a worrier).  During the main event there is generic idle chit-chat that, I believe, is intended to distract me.  Afterwards I am always praised for how 'well' I did or what an easy patient I am.  Usually there is a cursory visit in her office, where the same concerned tone and slow cadence is used to discuss our next steps.  

This same formulaic routine occurs with all of the staff in her office.  The only variation is between syrupy-sweet and bored.

This is eerily similar to my experience purchasing coffee.  The baristas are instructed to offer up their names while taking your order.  They simultaneously engage in routine small talk while trying to sell you the latest product.  Occasionally you can find an establishment (or a specific barista) that breaks out of the mold and interacts as a real person.

What does the future hold when we are reconceptualizing most professions as service delivery (something that is certainly happening in higher education) and convincing ourselves that excellent service consists of platitudes and insincerity?  What are younger (and future) generations learning when they are provided only with shellacked surfaces?

I've long felt that insincerity is a huge drawback in the classroom.  I believe my effectiveness as a teacher begins and ends with my ability to be real and stay in the moment with my students.  This may be too much to expect from my barista or grocery bagger, but my physician?


Annie said...

Hi Brigindo,
I try to be "real" with everyone I interact with at the library. I hate it when I go to my local grocery store, and as instructed, the clerk asks you if you found everything you were looking for, and does absolutely nothing about it when you say you did not, not even to ask you what it was you didn't find, because you know and they know, they are just fulfilling a mandate from their supervisor. I try to see past that, though, to the tired person behind the counter who just wants to go home. I'm sure it's annoying to find your doctor using the same patter, every visit. You'd think, as a professional, she would adapt her manner to each patient's needs, especially with repeat visits. I haven't found a doctor I like, either, except for one of my son's pediatric doctors, who always seemed pretty human as well as competent.

K said...

Try it; you might like it!

"Good morning. My name is Brigindo. I'll be your professor today..."

Or maybe not.

Catherine said...

I had a doctor like that for many, many years. She was a good doctor but I suspect her people skills weren't her strong point and so having an unvarying routine was the best she could do. She also had absolutely no sense of humor. Since she was a good doctor when it counted, I cut her some slack, but I would have preferred someone I felt comfortable with. My advice--change doctors.

Mom said...

I so agree. I'd rather someone be curt, bored, even offensive rather than phony. It scares me what a plastic, PR society we're turning into.

K said...

Maybe you need Doc Martin (ever watch that show?). Brilliant doctor but zero people skills. The furthest thing possible from "plastic" that you could imagine; you'd never get a fake smile out of him!

Julie said...

Yes! I agree. I hate fake. I'm also so much like you with the handshake. I hate to be touched by strangers, unless it's a genuine handshake.

Maybe part of the problem is that doctors see so many people? Eventually, the people turn into numbers, paperwork (and payments). When I go to the doctor, several other people in the waiting room have my same appointment time. It makes me so mad. Why do I have to wait an hour? Doctors surely don't wait for anybody.

And...YES! It often feels like there is a "routine," or set role, even in their personal interactions with us.

My favorite doctor ever was my husband's oncologist. She was so passionate and real. We questioned everything she did, argued with her, got on her nerves, and it often got heated (he was in the final stages of lymphoma).

But she encouraged us to do so. She taught us how to be aggressive and take charge of our own healthcare. She loved her job and wanted all of her patients to get well. It was personal to her.

She is part of the reason why my husband got well, even when the odds were against us. I will always love her dearly. Everyone should have her passion when it comes to a career, especially if it involves dealing with people.

I think being courteous--not fake but also not rude--is something that is learned through compassion, which is also learned. When parents teach their kids to care about people, it comes automatically and is real.

You come across as real to your students, because you really do care.