Why I distrust doctors

I am obsessed with the medical profession. On the one hand, doctors have very high social status. They’re respected and even beloved. There are few, if any, negative public conceptions about doctors (making them very different from lawyers, bankers, cops, etc). And they make so much money. There is no other profession where even a mediocre graduate from a mediocre school is pretty much guaranteed a job and a six-figure income. A middling graduate from a middling school can easily expect to earn more than 200,000 (once his or her residency is over). And it is not at all absurd for a doctor to earn many multiples of that. A substantial number of the millionaires in this country are doctors. I ever was to have a child, I’d encourage it to become a doctor.

But, on a personal level, I have also disliked almost every doctor that I’ve ever seen. Every doctor I’ve ever gone to has begun their examination of me by lecturing me about my weight. Apparently, this is something that average-weight people don’t experience, but all that us overweight people get from doctors, from childhood onwards, is this cold stare of disapproval.

It makes going to the doctor extremely unpleasant. After I started smoking, I avoided going to the doctor for eight years, because I was unwilling to face their condemnation. Now…was that healthy? No. But it’s a direct result of the way that doctors treat people. Because doctors have much higher social status than their patients, they feel free to criticize them in a somewhat paternalistic and dehumanizing way. This is, obviously, an experience that’s uncomfortable and annoying and one that we don’t wish to repeat. So we avoid the doctor.

(After I quit smoking, I finally went back to the doctor and the first thing he told me was that I should lose weight).

Every doctor is like this. I think it’s an inevitable result of power relations. The only “nice” doctors I’ve ever been to were the fancy rich-person doctors that my parents go to. In that case, the power relation is reversed: the doctor has less status than his tony clientele, so he is less able to be judgmental.

It makes me a bit sad to think that this is what’s going to happen to all my med student friends. They’re going to graduate and be jerks to their patients and make them afraid to go to the doctor and thereby increase the net amount of misery in the world.

However, I have finally learned how to fight back against this BS. I recently went to the dentist for the first time in, like, nine years. Obviously, while I was drinking heavily, proper tooth care was not my highest priority, but I am doing my best nowadays to remedy that. However, the dental hygienist would not get off my case about how I needed to do this or that or my teeth would fall out. I found myself putting off my next visit and falling into that old pattern of avoidance. So when I rescheduled this time, I called and requested a different hygienist. I am no longer going to tolerate medical professionals who lecture me. I am an adult. I do my best to do what I need to do in order to stay healthy. Just give me the information that I need. If you push harder than that, then you’re basically trying to bully me. And I’m not going to stand for that.

*Also, perhaps doctors should stop tormenting people with this advice. Being overweight is not associated with higher mortality rates.

2 thoughts on “Why I distrust doctors

  1. xan

    I guess if my life consisted of people coming to me with their health problems, it would be hard not to fixate on it. And once I was so obsessed with Health, I would see all these people who — stupidly! — were not Maximizing their Health, and I would automatically think less of them. Look at these unenlightened folks who don’t understand the importance of Maximizing Health! If only I could impress upon them the supreme importance of Health, all their problems would go away! But this will never work, because people care about more than just their long term health. And as people continued to ignore my wise advice, I suppose I could develop even more of a superiority complex. These fools, why do they never listen to me? I am a doctor! I guess I need to be *more* forceful!

    There are surely many cures for the doctor’s disease. One solution would be to take an economics class or two, or however many it takes before you have a healthy respect for other people’s preferences.

    In any case, the above suggests that, left untreated, the disease gets worse over a doctor’s lifetime. So I wonder if it might help to actively seek out *young* doctors. Now that I think of it, every young doctor I’ve ever had has been nice and unpompous.

    Failing that, next time a doctor gives you a lecture, you can say, “I see you have doctor’s disease! Never fear, I am a doctor for doctors!”

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Hey Xan, just rescued this from the spam. Yes, I think you’re right. From the doctor’s point of view, they see the same problem every day and no one is bothering to listen to them. However, this is the case with every service professional. Every day at Starbucks, someone, like, orders a drink that doesn’t exist (or something). To that person, this is the first time they’re making the mistake. But to the barista, it’s the thousandth time they’ve encountered it. However, the barista is inevitably real polite about correcting the person, because they have to be: the power imbalance means they can’t lash out. Similarly, it’s the doctor’s higher social status that allows him (or her) to vent his (or her) annoyance upon you.

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