Stop calling medical school graduates newly minted doctors

Stop calling medical school graduates newly minted doctors

Many friends from my original medical school class will graduate and officially become doctors in just a few weeks. I can’t believe I’ll be at that point in only a year, and I’m incredibly proud of my soon-to-be-doctor friends. This time of year there’s always a lot of talk surrounding graduation, and in light of that I have a small request.

Please stop calling medical school graduates “newly minted doctors.”

In the past few months I’ve read about newly minted doctors dozens of times. The snappy but overused phrase is sprinkled across articles about the residency match, health care reform and medical education. Every time I read it, I think about a gift my parents used to give my brother and me each Christmas: two envelopes of uncirculated coins, one from the mint in Denver and the other from Philadelphia. The perfect, shiny coins were sealed in plastic and presumably untouched by dirty human hands. My set of coins was indistinguishable from my brother’s, since all were cast from the same mold.

Then I picture myself and my classmates, and it strikes me that the ubiquitous metaphor of medical graduates as cold hard cash is ironic at best, and insulting at worst.

We don’t bear any of the luster or newness of those shiny, uncirculated coins. We’re tarnished and grubby. We have shoes in our closets with our patients’ blood soaked into the leather. We’ve been endlessly passed around, trying to keep our heads above water in the culture of a new medical specialty every few weeks. We are permanently marked by the human hands that have touched our own: patients begging us for answers that we don’t have, mentors guiding us as we perform a procedure, loved ones comforting us when a patient dies.

And we certainly aren’t all cast from the same mold. Some of my classmates were the first in their families to go to college, while others come from several generations of physicians. Some had previous careers — as teachers, businesspeople, lawyers, musicians, writers — which shape how they approach medicine. Some have published their research in top scientific journals. Others devote themselves to improving health within the most marginalized populations. My colleagues aspire to become leaders in fields as diverse as science, policy, public health, education and technology. We are anything but interchangeable.

We chose to forego years of income (and many of us took on considerable debt) to enter the profession where we believed we could have the most positive impact on people’s lives. While past generations might have viewed medical school as a ticket to prosperity, we knew better — there are many faster paths to greater wealth. And yet here we are, training to be doctors anyway. So evoking the greedy image of clinking coins to describe us is pretty far off the mark.

In short, what bothers me about the phrase “newly minted doctors” is that it’s both dehumanizing and de-professionalizing. It downplays the years of life, learning and human connection that take place before we ever write the letters “MD” after our names. It chips away at our professional identity by reducing young doctors to an interchangeable commodity rather than individuals who have devoted years of education to become thinkers and leaders in their communities and areas of interest.

Of course, I acknowledge that what new doctors do with their lives is a question of economic importance — but it is much more than that. And because the language used to refer to us influences how patients, policy makers and society at large view us, I ask that people pause before suggesting that graduating doctors could be molded, cast and distributed as if from a mint.

Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez is a medical student who blogs at Scope, where this article originally appeared.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • Brian Whitman

    I think it is just an expression

  • NewMexicoRam

    Don’t worry about it.
    Within the next year they’ll be calling you a greedy old doctor.

  • ErnieG

    I think this is just an idiom.

  • azmd

    Yes, I completely agree. New medical school graduates are much more like special snowflakes and the healthcare system should be more attentive about acknowledging that.

  • Dr. Drake Ramoray

    Perhaps the author should direct their linguistic ire towards the terms “health care provider” or “primary care provider.” I even sometimes see healthcare professional. There are sooo many bigger fish to fry than the current use of language, but within the chosen realm these terms have gone a lot farther in diminishing the respect and dignity of being a physician than newly minted doctor.

    • Patient Kit

      Agreed. At least “newly minted doctor” retains the hard-earned title of “doctor”. I hate hearing doctors called “providers” as much as I hate being called a “consumer”. Whatever other bones you have to pick with me, I will always call you doctors (or docs, for short, meant affectionately). Words are powerful and they do matter.

      • Dr. Drake Ramoray

        I have to admit I despise the term consumer for patients far more than health care provider for doctors. I just can’t remove the corporate taint from consumer. Pharmaceutical companies referring to their medications as “product” is in my top five as well.

        • Patient Kit

          The provider-consumer relationship just doesn’t have the same ring. It makes it sound like the whole thing is only about the money. I know that some people feel that “patient” has a submissive inactive connotation, but I like it. And, as you might imagine, I’m not a particularly passive patient. ;-)

          Doctor-patient relationship sounds so much more….what’s the word I’m looking for?…..I know….human! than provider-consumer relationship.

    • NPPCP

      Thank you so much. Next article please.

  • ninguem

    How about “hatched” ?

    • Patient Kit

      Have you ever seen a new batch of wee sea turtles hatch in their nest and instinctively all head to the sea. It’s a beautiful beautiful thing to see. (I’m part Mermaid so the ocean is another thing I care about as passionately as I care about healthcare.)

    • Suzi Q 38

      Not bad.

  • http://www.amerechristian.com/ Ron Smith

    Hi, Jennifer.

    I think its a good post. At some point a medical student, like a runner, goes from toeing the line in perfect stillness into that sudden forward motion initiated by the starting gun of graduation.

    You are a physician at the moment you take possession of that diploma. Let none convince you otherwise.

    While that is true, the knowledge base you command won’t be at all like you will command in three to five years more of residency, and certainly not like it will be in twenty or thirty years.

    Being a good physician is not about the knowledge base you command alone. Its about knowing where to go or who to call when a patient’s care calls for information beyond your mind’s oeuvre. It is about knowing that goes beyond cold hard fact and into intuition.

    I wish you all the best.

    Warmest regards,

    Ron Smith, MD
    www (adot) ronsmithmd (adot) com

  • Marianne

    Sorry to break the news, but you are a…newly minted doctor. And you don’t really know anything. Most of us, when starting the PGY-1 level feel pretty dumb, and are. Then at the end of PGY-5 you think you are the smartest thing in the world. But soon you will feel dumb again–or at least realize that you aren’t as bright as a newly minted coin.

    Please don’t worry about the semantics and focus on the problem at hand: learning your craft.

  • ninguem

    I think for new lawyers, the term is “pinched off”.

  • QQQ

    Pretty soon, Jennifer will understand what other experience veteran doctors in the field of medicine go though with doctor bashing and being the “heels” in medicine from the media! Hold on young lady, the fun is just beginning!

  • http://thestoryofhealth.com Anoop Kumar, MD @StoryOfHealth

    Kudos to you for putting your views out there as a medical student, Jennifer. As you see, you’ll definitely get some heat for doing so. I hope you continue to put forth your opinions as you move forward in your career. I’m sure you’ll have some interesting things to say on behalf of healthcare and your patients, based on what I see from your writings on the Stanford blog. I wish you the best in your career.

  • guest

    How about if everyone just calls you “residents?”

  • Patient Kit

    Depending on your point of view, I think “provider” is meant to be inclusive and/or to lump together doctors, PAs, NPs and blur the line between them, making them more interchangeable.

    I don’t think “consumer” is meant to remind us that health is the product. I think it’s meant to remind us that, first and foremost, healthcare is a big business in this country. However, unlike most other businesses, very little is transparent to health “consumers”. Maybe they should call us “blind consumers” or maybe call hospitals “hospital casinos”. Call opening our bills “Russian roulette”.

    Detached is a good word to describe the “provider-consumer so-called relationship”. Detached, businesslike, cold. I much prefer the warm and fuzzy, human, connected sound of “doctor-patient relationship”, even if sometimes it is elusive or an outright illusion. At least, it’s something worth shooting for.

    • http://thestoryofhealth.com Anoop Kumar, MD @StoryOfHealth

      Nobody has ownership over the word consumer. Whether “they” call people consumers or patients, we can use the word in a way we see fit. Consumers, in business, are empowered. Healthcare should move in that direction. Consumers, in business, demand a quality good or service. Wouldn’t it be great for everyone to remember that health is the good patients (and non-patients) really want, not just better healthcare?

      The consumer does not replace the patient. The consumer is one aspect of the patient. In a care setting, the doctor-patient relationship is preferable.

  • Tom Clayton

    The analogy to money is entirely wrong and it astonishes me that you make other comments about dehumanizing when you completely miss the common meaning of the words. To virtually everyone else, newly minted means just out of training, nothing more. What are you so mad or defensive about anyway? Why don’t you try solving some medical problems by observing others and see how comfortable you feel after having nothing more than an introduction to medicine and surgery in medical school? According to the end of your blog, you are STILL a medical student!

    New doctors just out of medical school know very little about what they will be doing the rest of their lives medically speaking and it is not until residency that this knowledge and experience begins to accumulate. The fact that doctors make somewhat more money than many others after having devoted many more years to learning and not making mistakes and every single day that they practice doing the same compulsive things to not make mistakes is NOT the same as greed.

    How many business people make tons of money for doing very little, such as inventing or repackaging a widget or yet another set of DVDs about how to work out? Nobody says anything when bar owners or stores clean up by selling alcohol. I do not use the term greed with doctors unless they are doing procedures that are not medically indicated, like so many of the knee arthroscopies, etc.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    Newly minted is indeed horrible. These are better:

    Newly hatched. Newly sprung forth. Newly vomited out. Spring lambs to be slaughtered. Newbydocs. Nursebait. Incompetent interns-to-be who should have to wear beanies with propellers on their heads for their entire internships. But-they-don’t-know children.

  • Brian P. Curry

    To be honest, “newly-minted” is fairly apt, especially if you extend the metaphor. Medical school is the crucible. We are the coin.