Doctors: Myths & Facts

Myth: Doctors are demi-gods.

Fact: Yes, once upon a time having a son or daughter become a doctor or lawyer was considered the pinnacle of success for the landed gentry. A golden light shone over these professions and the chosen few who basked in its warmth were held in the highest esteem. For the legal profession this myth was debunked long ago, but for many people doctors are still, consciously and subconsciously regarded as a bit superhuman. They’re not.

Today’s doctors are yesterday’s  geeky kids who weren’t good at anything except science.  They were the really unhealthy kids. The kids who sustained a groin injury every time they swung themselves up on the pummel horse. The kids who looked forward to weekends as brief respites from being forced to eat urinal cakes. Becoming a doctor is their revenge.

Myth:  Doctors are really smart because they have to go to school for a long time.

Fact: Going to school for a long time doesn’t necessarily make you smart. As some of you may remember, going to university deludes you into thinking you are elite and destined for great things. It makes you arrogant and smug. It insulates you from the real world. The longer you’re there, the more ingrained this mindset becomes.

Interestingly, you don’t even have to be doing well at university to maintain this delusion. You show up, sit through a few lectures, write or buy a few assignments and spend the rest of your time drinking. Oh, I’m sure there are doctors who graduated with exceptional grades, but I’m also pretty sure there are doctors out there who graduated with mediocre grades and even “just slipped in under the wire” grades and grades that were bought one way or another.

Myth: Doctors care about people. That’s why they became doctors.

Fact: Please. Okay, maybe a handful of the doctors practicing today went into the profession with nothing but noble motives, but the kids I knew who were going on to medical school did it for the money. [And on the topic of motivations, some of the guys I knew who were going on to teacher’s college wanted to become high school teachers because the idea of spending their entire day with hot teenaged girls was their idea of heaven – scary, eh?]

Myth: Doctors know a lot about medicine and the human body.

Fact: Nobody knows more about your human body than you do. Doctors only know as much as they were able to absorb and retain from school. Most of them have 800 patients and very little free time. What free time they do have they use to spend all their money, so they certainly don’t have time to keep up with their journal reading and staying current on medical break-throughs and advancements. If it weren’t for the pharmaceutical sales reps relentlessly at their doorsteps telling them about all the great new diseases they’ve invented drugs for, doctors would be lost. Doctors rely 70% on pharma reps help them make diagnoses and 30% on the manufacturers and marketers of cool new diagnostic machines and probes.

Myth: If I am sick, my doctor will make me better.

Fact: Unfortunately, it is not your doctor’s job to make you better. Your doctor’s mandate is to do something – anything – about the symptom(s) you complain of. He or she will drug you, cut you, zap you and/or prod you until that symptom is no longer evident. Whether or not this treatment causes you a more serious illness or debility along the way or some time in the future, is irrelevant. If the medical profession and the health care system really wanted to make people better they would put most of their time and resources into prevention. Because a whole big bunch of our illnesses and diseases could probably be prevented through better lifestyle choices and through healthier environments (air, water, food and all the other products to which we’re exposed every day that are full of nasty stuff).

Myth: House is a good doctor.

Fact: House isn’t a doctor at all. He’s an English comedian/musician turned actor (Hugh Laurie) who pretends to be a doctor on TV and gets paid a lot of money for doing a good job pretending. Do not write to him with your medical problems. They make him feel queasy. hughlaurie2

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35 responses to “Doctors: Myths & Facts

  1. House may not be a doctor in real life, but you’ve got to admit that he’s CUTE!!

  2. Q: What do you call a doctor who barely passed, and graduated at the bottom of his class?”

    A: “Doctor”.

    And hell, if going to school for a long, long time makes you smart, then I should be a freaking genius!

    Who’s the real genius, though?

    The suckers who go to University for a decade, and come out at age 30 with huge student debt, and can’t retire till they’re 80?

    Or those that start a low-paying job at age 20, work their way up through the company and by the time they’re 30, they earn the same money. But their house is half-paid off, and they can retire at 55.

    Wish a guidance counselor had told me THAT when I was 17.

  3. I always feel like a doctor’s just giving you his/her best guess at what’s going on. A shot in the dark. I grew up thinking doctor’s knew everything. Experience has taught me they are a counselor not an absolute. Although I don’t want to take away from the fact that I highly value their opinion, Karma!

  4. Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
    Doctor: “Then don’t do that.”

    That was the upshot of my appointment with my medical oncologist last week. Ever since I started to feel better after chemo and started biking and going back to the gym, all my joints have hurt. I describe it as joint pain because it’s in those locations (hips, shoulders, knees, neck) that I have pain. I don’t think it is bone pain, mostly because I don’t know what that is and this sort of pain I’ve had before, when I’ve over done something physically. The thing is, it seems to have got worse than when it started and it certainly hasn’t got better.

    I finally called for an appointment and saw my doctor. I described my symptoms and she said that the chemo I had has never been associated with pain, unlike something like taxotere which is associated with pain. She didn’t have an opinion as to why all my joints hurt. That was kind of disappointing. I asked for the appointment because, while I can work through pain, I didn’t want to give myself a permanent injury. She said that exercise was not contra-indicated in my case and kind of left it at that.

    I came away from the appointment thinking that it seems as though I am on my own now. As long as I am doing okay, meeting some sort of average, no one is interested in helping me do better than average. I will however, bring this up when I see my GP for my annual medical, which I equate to changing the oil, even though I don’t have a car any more. But you are right – each person is her own best advocate for health care.

  5. LOL. Its funny you wrote about doctors because I had a bad experience with mine this weekend. Basically, he can be a real ass and must have been on his period when I saw him.

    There must be lots of other jobs that they could do that are less ‘hands on and interactive’ but I guess like you said, money is an attractive lure.

  6. Heidilou – He’s especially cute in that photo up there, isn’t he?

    Friar – That sometimes works out and sometimes the company they worked their ass off for for the last 30 years suddenly goes bust and they’re out on the street 5 years before they were eligible to retire and can’t get another job because they’re entire career’s focus has been so narrow that they don’t know anything else and they’re 50 now competing with kids who have Master’s degrees because that’s what everyone wants in the job market these days. Either way I guess the grass always seems greener on the other side.

    Lola – In every workplace there are usually more people who are crappy at their job and/or just doing the bare minimum to keep from getting fired. Why should the medical profession be any different?

    Jobthingy – I know eh? Ewww indeed.

    Julia – If I had to take a guess at the joint pain thing, I’d say the chemo has messed with your immune system and that maybe your immune system is causing some inflammatory activity in your joints — much like arthritis or rheumatism. Does that sound logical? You need to get your immune system back to normal functioning. There are supplements you can take to help with that (fish oil, probiotics – HMF powder is the best). A naturopath might be able to help, too. I can recommend a really good one if you like?

    Hannah – It’s pretty difficult to have a good experience with doctors these days. Our health care system needs somebody with vision to give it an overhaul.

  7. I definitely bristled at the replacement stereotypes you offered (demigod replaced by geeky kid who was *only* good at science) because, c’mon, one stereotype is as bad as another. And as many examples as you can think of of people who do fit those, there are plenty who don’t. I know some. Personally.

    But yes, doctors are just people who have other lives to think about (as often families they’d like to see as ‘time to spend all their money’ – needlessly inflammatory assumption there) and who are as likely to be sucked in to peer-supported prejudices as anyone else in a profession.

    Just like ‘High Fidelity’ music geeks at the record store think everyone is beneath them artistically and the barista in your coffee shop thinks you’re a boring yuppie blowing half the day’s WW points if you come in at the same time every day for your no-fat caramel macchiato with choc-a-doodle sprinkles, doctors talk about patients among themselves and determine based on your personality whether you’re a whiny, ache-and-pain collector who’s just coming in for a refill of your narcotics scrip.

    Or – and this really rankles me – whether your problem is that you’re just fat, so nothing else is relevant (or can be dealt with) until you lose weight. Even though it’s frankly impossible to do so and keep it off, as Oprah with her staff of fifty and bankroll of millions has repeatedly shown.

    I agree that we all have choices to make acting in our own self-interest for our health. The problem I have with doctors isn’t that they’re not the gods we sometimes hope them to be, but that they’re often not the open, listening partners in health that we simply ask them to be. Arrogance exists in any profession (‘We work here, therefore we know more than you.’) It’s just especially damaging in health care.

    Often, doctors simply don’t believe what we know and say about ourselves when we go to see them and think they know better than we do. And not being listened to pisses me off, draws out the diagnostic phase, and results in needlessly expensive repeat visits and endless testing. Sometimes I’m too sick to be a valuable partner in my own health care. What then? If you guessed, ‘you get crappy service’, you win the prize.

  8. The doctor patient relationship should be a partnership, unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.

    Fortunately, I got one of those doctors who don’t think they know all and count on you because you know your body. I love Nathalie.

  9. Doctors in Ottawa are the dregs of the system. They don’t want to work there because of all the politicians.
    Who would want their daily grind to be helping people pull their head out of their asses.
    You say “being surrounded by hot teen girls” like its a bad thing, I don’t understand.
    Preventive medicine is an oxymoron. Huge improvements in health and life expectancy were made in the first half of the 20th century as medicine learned about antibiotics and basic hygiene, and astonishing surgical breakthroughs. There has been no connection made between all the annual checking and any increased health in the last 40 or so years. All that does is pad the accounts and entice more money grubbers to go to the doctor.

  10. Dr. Monkey – Thanks, that means a lot coming from a doctor.

    AutieHallie – This post WAS meant to be somewhat humorous, not a hard-hitting expose. Playing with stereotypes, hyperbole, misinformation, etc., are devices sometimes used when trying to elicit cheap laughs. I’m sorry if you felt I crossed the line into being offensive. That being said I agree with most of everything else you say. Your last paragraph, especially: “Sometimes I’m too sick to be a valuable partner in my own health care”. I’ve been saying forever that we need a profession called “patient advocate”; someone to represent us when we get into medical difficulty in the same way a lawyer represents us when we get into legal difficulty. Someone who has all the resources at his/her fingertips and can advise you on best options and will speak up for you when you’re too sick or panicked to do so.

    Jazz – Lucky you. My doctor is Halifax was a nice person. She was a terrible doctor, but if I went in and said I needed a test or a perscription or a note or to see a specialist, she’d do it – no questions asked…which was probably one of the things that made her a terrible doctor, but anyway, it worked for me, most of the time.

    Bandobras – I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say in that last paragraph. It’s not preventative “medicine” we need, but preventative health care. This is more than annual check-ups, although I don’t see how these cannot be valuable?

  11. What I was trying to say is that the medicine industry has a never ending expansion of checking to see if you are ok.
    All of these checks suck up money and time, but have shown very little benefit in increasing the health of the population.
    We used to go to a doctor if you felt too sick to take care of it at home. Now we are supposed to see the doctor at the very least once a year for several tests and procedures and very little of it is having any actual benefit.
    I know, I know, we need to find cancer early, etc etc, but the fact is that very few people actually ever find anything in these annual tests compared to the masses of tests generated. Most find something when they go to the doctor because they don’t feel right.
    It is all part of the huge money generating scam by the medicine industry.

  12. I always say that I love my doctor because he does exactly what I tell him to do. I used to always pick old doctors because I thought they knew more but I got this little cutie right of of his scrubs. I’m not crazy about my gyn though, he reminds me of Dr. Oz from Oprah. My urologist reminds me of a SNL actor and my hand doctor is some bored old guy I couldn’t pick out of a line-up.

  13. You forgot about a doctor being a business person! 😉

    -as for the feelings thing, when I was in University they started using us (the music dept.) to help the med school start up ensembles/choirs so that the med students would participate in something that had ‘feelings’.

  14. House isn’t a real doctor? Maybe not in Canada, but stateside he’s done enough episodes to get his license. Your healthcare system is so riddled with red-tape. I don’t know how you people stand it.

  15. “Doctors diagnose; Nurses heal”, from Nurse Jackie – a new TV show we don’t get (unless you have TMN?) where Edie Falco plays a nurse version of Hugh Laurie’s House.

    I think we need more Nurse Practitioners.

  16. Bandobras – There is some sort of machine or something that can scan your entire body inside and out and can diagnose pretty much anything that could possibly be wrong with you. It costs a zillion dollars to have the scan done, but I think Oprah did it and recommended it highly. She was surprised to find out not many people could afford it.

    Geewits – What a good idea – get a tiny young doctor that you can order around! Brilliant. (You have a HAND doctor? Is that all he does? Hands?)

    Helen – How did that music/med thing work out? Kind of like when they send football players to ballet class?

    Mayopie – I know. It’s sheer insanity. It’s also not allowed up here for people to become politicians just because they once played one on TV or in movies or because they won a body building contest or once boffed Cher. They have to go to law school and stuff

    Violetsky – No, I don’t even have cable. I DO have a nurse practitioner though. She seems okay so far except that she messed up my pap and now I have to have it done all over again. (First time THAT ever happened).

  17. Gotta love Blackadder! 🙂
    Also, everytime I watch House (one of my favourite shows) I can’t help but imagine him speaking in the way he spoke in Blackadder lol Makes it that much more funny!

  18. i agree with this on all accounts. when we announced our son’s name to our family my mother was quite pleased and hoped he might be a doctor. i told her that i hoped he would not be a doctor.

    the drug reps are a thorn in my side, i always have the urge to torture them with my goofy questions. i told my “talk doctor/therapist” that he’d sold his soul to the devil for accepting the free meals the reps give them. he laughed at me.

    i rented movie over the weekend titled “dark matter” (based on a real event) that backs up your claim about colleges giving the false impression of holier than thou.

  19. I’ve been on a quest for a good doctor involved in vitamins, minerals, hormones (bio-identical not that other crap)… cant find one. Well I did find one but of course he’s not covered by my insurance. I truly believe prevention through exercise, diet and hormone replacement would go a long way towards reducing the illness and disease we have today. But good luck finding a doctor to help you.

  20. I have been having diarrhea for the past 6 weeks and my gastro. doctor can’t even figure out what it is!! GEEZ!!!!
    Why did I pay more to go see a “specialist”?
    If anyone here is suffering from this and is well now, please let me know what you did. It came on suddenly, no fever, cough, only a sneeze or two and a runny nose. So I knew it wasn’t the flu. I eat very little and go about 7 times a day.
    I haven’t been out for 6 weeks except to see the doctor.
    Can anyone help me???

  21. Geewits – Well he sounds like a Top Doc to me, too..(Oh, I get it — upper extremities…Top Doc!!) Ha ha .

    Stephanie – I know, eh? I have a hard time taking him seriously as a doctor. I wonder if House is as popular in the UK?

    Leah – Oooohh – a movie that backs up my fun-poking! Very cool. Secretly I was kind of hoping that doctors had to really work hard to get through medical school and learned a lot. Oh well.

    Charlene – You have to help yourself, really. Do your own research, maybe visit a naturopath or two or three until you find one that makes sense to you. I can’t even find a doctor, period — let alone one that is holistic.

    Lisa- I’ve sent you an email.

  22. Do you mean to tell me that boffing Cher will not get you into the Canadian government? Great. There goes 10 minutes I could have spent doing something less gross.

  23. Mayopie – You can still become a US governor or senator or maybe even President, right? If you want to get into the Canadian government and you don’t have a law degree, you could acquire influencial parents who will pay someone to make you Minister of some important government Department where you’ll make $120 K at age 26 and from where it’s just one small step to Prime Minister, but then you’ll blow it all by first leaving top secret documents in a public washroom and just when you think that’s blown over some newspaper guy finds your tape recorder which you left lying around in some public washroom and on which you accidentally taped yourself saying extremely insensitive things to your assistant.

  24. I must live in La-La land here behind my rose-colored glasses, because I have worked with doctors for 20 years — orthopedic surgeons, psychiatrists, cardiologists, respirologists, hematologists, hepatologists, neurosurgeons – yada – yada. I have never seen one who didn’t care deeply about his patients, and I have actually seen doctors put their head in their hands and cry when there was someone they could not save. To a man — and woman — they uphold a very high standard of integrity, and I have respect for them.

    Chris, you seem to be very jaded about life in general, and rather angry. What’s up?

    BTW, I can’t get used to Hugh Laurie as “House” — complete with an American accent — but I loved him as Bertie Wooster.

  25. Lisa – First reaction I got when I read your comment is sadly that it sounds like swine flu… I’d totally get checked out more seriously if I were you. Good luck!

  26. Oh man, where to begin. I work with health professions students- they are just smart but young and naive kids, nearly ready to poke you with needles and prescribe medications. some are fantastic: do their research and ask questions, some are just coasting along getting their coursework done.

    I have had a terrible health care week and I am now going to use your blog comments to rant.

    My poor Mother has been suffering with a horrid cough caused by some sinusitis for months, MONTHS! Since, like, February! She has been in constant touch with different doctors with mixed engagement and little help. “Take some antibiotics and be patient,” is the basic answer she gets. She takes this answer, believes it, accepts it because it is what the DOCTOR said.

    We pleaded with her to see other doctors, there are so many ways to help people, she must have other options. Nope, she stuck to her doctors. “Take some antibiotics and be patient.”

    This weekend it went from bad to worse to worst! She started passing out from the coughing! She passed out and fell at work Monday, she got a huge shiner, a swollen face, and was in the ER. The ER sent her home with basically no change in treatment and no help. “Take some antibiotics and be patient.”

    I went with her to a specialist yesterday who did not even have enough compassion in her to comment on the huge plum that appeared to have taken over my Mother’s eye! She did not say one thing about it! She is supposed to be her caregiver, you would think she would say, “What happened? Is it hurting terribly? Has another doctor looked at this?”, but nothing. Zip. (Maybe she was blind and I just did not notice…)

    The specialist told her “Take some antibiotics and be patient.” My Mom begged, pleaded. She cannot breath! She is worried about losing her jobs! She can’t sleep! She chokes when she eats! She is afraid to drive a car and pass out! “Is there anything you can suggest? Anyone else I should see?” The specialist told her “Not my area. Take some antibiotics and be patient.”

    I piped in to advocate and got the same damn answer, but she did not prescribe me any antibiotics.

    My mother was again crushed and left further believing that there was no hope for her and no one could help her. No doctor cared about her. She did not want to see anyone else- why bother? The DOCTOR said, “Take some antibiotics and be patient” and there was no point in wasting time elsewhere.

    I spent the afternoon and early evening trying to convince her otherwise; insisting that not all doctors are geniuses and that it was clear to me that the doctor we saw that day was a terrible caregiver. I called the friggin’ Mayo Clinic nurseline, the insurance company, the clinic, the urgent care, and the ER. I got nurses to talk to my Mom and urge her to go to the ER and demand help. “She is not a DOCTOR”, my Mom would say. “How does she know?”

    My Mother refused to leave the house, she continued to cough uncontrollably, started to wheeze, insisted that she was clearly a hopeless case.

    She only lives within 30 Min from the Mayo Clinic, the major University full of experts where I work, and about a dozen other hospitals. I was trying to think of how I could trick her to get in the car. (I think I am going to get some tranquilizer darts for the future.) I was so angry that my Mom was somehow stuck in that place where whatever the doctor says is true and the end of it (“Take some antibiotics and be patient.”) and that she had lost all hope in health care too.

    My Dad finally got home and took her to the ER. I had written up a list of symptoms, questions and requests. I threatened my stoic, stubborn Father that I would go along if he was not willing to advocate. She got some additional diagnosis and medications. She is at home sleeping, still coughing, but alive.

    I feel like that was just the height of round one, like there will be more begging and pleading until she is breathing easy and I can exhale.

    Ok, thanks for reading. Demand answers, demand a second opinion.

    One last bit: My husband had an ER to inpatient to outpatient experience with a chronic diagnosis a month ago. He had wonderful care the whole time by caring people who listened to all our questions and doubts and helped us connect with resources. They are not demi-Gods either, but they sure did great work for us and I know there are others out there who are capable of the same.

  27. Stephanie – Thanks for caring about Lisa. I haven’t heard back from her since I sent her the email…

    Missy – Vent away baby. Your poor mum. It almost sounds like whooping cough. Although that’s usually reserved for kids. I hope she finds some relief and someone who can help her soon. And yes, I totally know there are good doctors out there, just like there are good, caring people in any profession. Best wishes for mum, eh.

  28. Missy, I hope your mom is doing better.
    Stephanie, I sure wish House WAS a real doctor. I’d go to him in a nano-second. Anyway, the upside of having diarrhea for 6 weeks…….I’ve lost over 25lbs. Thanks for trying to help. I appreciate it. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. SIGH!