He knows the drill well: He’s dining in a restaurant with his family, catching up on the day when suddenly someone appears at his elbow. “Why, hello, doctor! Imagine running into you here,” the person greets him.
Maurice Ramirez, DO could put money on what the rest of the conversation will center around. The visitor swears she called the office/meant to call the office/should call the office but—could he call in a refill prescription for her? It will just take a minute and she’s down to her last one.
It’s a scenario he inherited the minute he started picking up board certifications in emergency medicine, family practice, and sports medicine to name a few of the specialties he covers in his boutique practice in Kissimmee, Florida. No matter where he goes, Ramirez—along with the other 700,000-plus physicians in this country—are sitting ducks. Blame it on the media, folklore, or gossip, but the American society isn’t set up to allow physicians to be regular people. The pressure, says John-Henry Pfifferling, PhD, the director of the Center for Professional Well-Being in Durham, North Carolina, is always to be on, always knowledgeable, clear and present, never tired or irritable, and an exceptional human being.
“A lot of people look to doctors as surrogate fathers who know everything from stock tips to housing advice, to how to deal with a cold,” says Thomas Demaria, PhD, the assistant vice president of behavioral health sciences at the South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York. “The assumption is that they are all powerful.”
Physicians feed the image, of course: They answer the telephone as “Doctor Smith.” They order family address labels announcing the card sitting in a friend’s mailbox is from Doctor and Mr. Smith. One of Demaria’s friends had the bureau of motor vehicles in his state put the letters MD on his license plate. “I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ and he said quite earnestly, ‘I want to be available in case people need me,'” says Demaria.
Ego is the other unspoken reason. Counselors to physicians readily admit the requirements for entry into this profession weed out the weak personalities and sharpen competitiveness and perfectionism. Doctors commonly fall into the trap of defining themselves as people by their occupation. more »