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The Insecure Physician

Dismiss the plaques on the door and the awards on the walls.

Erasmus, seething at the incredible self-aggrandizement of Pope Julian in Rome and his narcissistic predilections, decided that it was time to poke a bit of fun at the pompous Pope. The result of his anger was a not-so-inconsequential book, "The Praise of Folly" where any careful reader could quickly spot the offending Pope. You can get a copy at Amazon or at Project Gutenberg (free) online. It's worth a read. And we might apply a bit of Erasmus' inspection to the medical field.

No one needs to be a super-sleuth or an amateur psychologist to know quite a bit about someone once you're in their office. All the signs are there, if you look carefully. I had just such an opportunity several months ago and now, with addition information, I know more about this physician than I need.

Walking into the office of this maven of her specialty left me wondering about one thing; the table full of small, lucite blobs stating "Physician of the Year..." with the year and the name of the woman indicated. There were at least 15 of them crowding the table. Why so many? Why did she need to "advertise" this way?

We all come from whatever backgrounds our parents provided for us. For some, adulthood will mean overcoming parental shortcomings or a less-than-modest home. For others, adulthood will mean always trying to appear better than good and "awards" are one way to do it.

The woman is not alone in her need to appear stellar. A male physician had his walls decorated with framed bits of paper attesting to his having been in the military 40 years ago, attended a conference 20 years ago and CME (continuing medical education) conference attendance. Who cares if he went to a conference in Hawaii 20 years ago? Hasn't medicine changed since then? In his office, he had another prominently displayed, albeit office-prepared, notice: "Harvard-trained physician."

Consider how the personality behind all this alleged status-enhancing nonsense must be. It's not difficult. The woman, when a patient disagreed with something or had a question, would insist, "I'm not arguing with you." Who was arguing? Not the patient, but she saw every instance of asking for clarification as an attack on her status as a physician.

The man? He thought it his right to make patients wait for 3-4 hours in his waiting room (with no explanation) as he worked in another office in another city and rushed back. Did I say rushed? Sorry, he came back driving rather recklessly (I saw him) to arrive at these overly late appointments. One patient sued him.

And the two of them are not alone in this need. A psychologist had her front door covered with up to 10 brass plates indicating expertise in more things than she could possibly be expert. No one stops you from having a brass plate made. No one stops you from having a paper certificate printed up on your office printer.

Again, the warning is obvious; let the buyer beware even when it comes to healthcare. Hospitals get certificates and break the rules on infection control all the time as they fail to change gloves or properly dispose of contaminated waste or "sharps." Therapists go to weekend seminars and then claim expertise in something that requires years of training.

You are left to make a decision based on perhaps inadequate information and the result can be costly.

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