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Surgeons Must Overcome A Bad Reputation

It seems to me this topic of surgeons and their lack of civility gets pulled out on a fairly regular basis.  This latest discussion in the news media is due to a short article in the current Archives of Surgery (full reference below).

Surgeons as a group have a reputation (which even nice ones have trouble overcoming) of arrogance and incivility.

The authors, Klein and Forni, of this article state (bold emphasis is mine):

Uncivil behavior is so present in society at large that we should not be surprised to find it among health care workers. This article is meant to raise the awareness of the costs—both in dollars and in human misery—of incivility in the practice of medicine by looking in particular at the case of surgeons.

Uncivil behavior brings misery wherever it occurs.  If the individual tends to behave in an uncivil fashion prior to medical school and prior to residency, then that individual is likely to behave in an uncivil behavior in practice.  Medical school and residency aren’t “finishing schools” in that regard.

Medical schools seem to have become aware of this simple fact.  Recent news articles report some medical schools will begin interviewing for “people skills” in their applicants —  NY Times article by Gardiner Harris: New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test.

I applaud Klein and Forni for their suggestions that surgeons lead the civility imitative in health care: 

The surgical community has an incredible opportunity to lead a civility initiative in health care. The first step is to recognize the power that civility has to improve the surgical workplace, the patient outcomes, and the workers’ quality of life. Organizations should commit to developing a universal code of conduct that is identical for surgeons, nurses, staff, administrators, and patients. This code must have clearly defined expectations as well as consequences for violations. More important, the code should be applied fairly and consistently, without modification or special allowances based on an individual’s actual or perceived status in the group.  ………

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   —Maya Angelou



Barbers of Civility; Andrew S. Klein; Pier M. Forni; Arch Surg. 2011;146(7):774-777; doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.150

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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One Response to “Surgeons Must Overcome A Bad Reputation”

  1. Dr. Val Jones says:

    I have always liked that Maya Angelou quote… Also, I watched “The Doctor” (with William Hurt – a cardiothoracic surgeon who gets throat cancer and becomes a patient) for the first time last week. My boyfriend was surprised to note that I didn’t see anything out of the norm with the supposedly “arrogant” surgeon’s pre-diagnosis behavior. In fact, I didn’t find him particularly offensive. The actor supposedly underwent an emotional metamorphosis when he realized what it felt like to be a patient. It seems that gallows humor, emotional distancing, and curt patient interactions are so commonplace that peer physicians don’t even realize how rude and cold it can be. I was shocked that I wasn’t more sensitive to it… I guess working in healthcare is a kind of culture. It will take a lot more than “people skills tests” for pre-meds to make the system more humane. ;-(

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