Have you had a run-in with an arrogant doctor?
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Many of us have encountered an arrogant or egotistical doctor. He or she comes across as mightier-than-thou, seems brusque, superior or conceited, as if we are supposed to feel lucky simply to be in this person's presence, or fearful enough that we had better not cross him.
When we aren't feeling well, which of course is the reason we are visiting this individual to begin with, then facing such a big personality may leave us feeling intimidated, angry, frustrated, or a host of other negative emotions, none of which is helpful for improving our health.
Confidence and self-assurance are good traits for a doctor. We want to know that our doctors are confident about their work and are positive about their abilities to help us. But wise patients understand that there is no room for arrogance, narcissism or condescension from egotistical medical professionals. Their lack of respect for our needs, and their difficult personalities, will inhibit the partnership we need to develop, and we won't get the care we need from them.
Here are some ideas for understanding, then dealing with difficult doctors:
A Large Ego Is a Cover Up
Psychologists will tell you that when someone who acts arrogant or superior, does so because he lacks self-confidence. Instead of truly feeling superior, he instead, truly feels inferior. So he'll use intimidation, or act conceited to cover up that lack of self-esteem. In the school yard, this doctor was a bully. In a medical setting, that bully's intimidation takes the form of arrogance.
This doctor has spent a lifetime with his personality and you won't be able to change it. Therefore, your choices are to either learn to work around it, or to find another doctor.
How do you know which approach to take? You'll want to assess the importance of this particular doctor to your health. Will this be a short-term relationship or a long-term one? Does this doctor have special knowledge or abilities that others do not? Or are there other doctors who are available to help you so you don't have to put up with this one?
Become familiar with the steps for finding a new doctor before you simply fire Dr. Arrogant. While I would love to tell you just to find another doctor, that is much easier said than done in primary care, and some specialties.
How to Develop a Working Relationship with an Arrogant or Egotistical Doctor
If you decide to stay with this doctor, or believe you'll be able to establish a relationship, here are some steps to take to diminish the effects of the difficult aspects of his personality:
- First, understand that not only would this individual deny he is egotistical, he would also deny that he is a bully or has an inferiority complex. In truth, he has developed that personality because it serves his purposes; people are so intimidated that they don't try to get to know him any better. He doesn't want to be pleasant, friendly or kind because then people would discover just how inferior he is.
- Knowing he doesn't want to be friendly, don't try to make him your friend. Your goal will simply be to take those intimidating edges out of the relationship so you can get the help you need.
- Recognize that his difficult personality is not a true reflection of his abilities as a doctor. He may, or may not, be a good practitioner, able to meet your medical needs. He may come across as the best surgeon / cardiologist / or any other "gist" there is, and maybe he is. But maybe he is not. You'll need to work to discover whether he can truly help you, or whether his arrogance is covering up weaknesses in his abilities.
- Ironically, it may be that this doctor's inferiority complex actually works in your favor. If you have a difficult illness or puzzling symptoms, and he can help you or solve your diagnosis mystery, that "proves" his superiority. His success as your doctor helps him get beyond his feelings of inferiority.
- Remember, though, that communication between the two of you is critical, so be sure that his ego doesn't inhibit your ability to communicate about the important aspects of your illness or condition.
- This doctor will think that everything he tells you is right, or the best answer. When it comes to those aspects of being a wise patient that involve asking smart questions, or sharing information you have learned about your diagnosis or treatment options, know that Dr. Arrogant will resist the discussion, may ignore you or get angry. If that happens, try to smooth out the conversation by stating that you understand what he has explained to you, that you know that both of you have the same goal - to improve your health status - and that he can create a win-win for both of you by explaining this additional information. Don't be intimidated out of the conversation! But know that you'll have to approach this difficult person differently to step around his ego.
- If you run into a problem with your treatment (for example, the drug he prescribed doesn't work well), then make sure you state the problem as objectively as you can. An intimidator may try to make it sound as if the fault lies with you, the patient. Telling him you are having a problem will sound to him as if you are accusing him of making a mistake, so you'll have to smooth those edges, too.
The most important aspect of the relationship with this doctor is that you will have to work hard to be sure you can ask the questions you need to ask, get the answers you need to have, and get the attention and service you deserve.
Recent studies have shown a correlation between arrogance, obnoxiousness and medical errors. Once you're feeling better or stronger, you may choose to take a role in removing these types of egos from the profession of medicine. If so, there are places to report bad provider behavior with the goal of improving that behavior, or removing that ego from the practice of medicine.