Why do physicians behave badly? Maybe because they’re scared.

Why do physicians behave badly? Maybe because theyre scared.

A dozen set of eyes stared upwards.  The nurses ate their pizza and glanced back and forth between me and the dry erase board that I had recently filled with incomprehensible scrawl.  I had given this lecture many times and said the words over and over again.  And yet the response was always surprising.

“Why do you think physicians get angry and annoyed when you call?”

A simple question.  Every day clinicians yell at nurses.  They bully, they prod, they rush off the phone before fully answering questions.  I have done it many times myself.  The phenomena is so common that most nurses and secretaries accept it as part of the job.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.  It doesn’t mean that they won’t cower the next time they have to call that physician again.

I waited patiently for the audience to venture a guess.  In all the times I have asked this very same question, I have never had any one volunteer an answer.  And this befuddles me.  Because most physicians go into the profession to help others.   Most truly want to be there for those in need.  So why when the cards are on the table, when a nurse or patient calls in crisis, is the response so negative?

I threw out a few possible answers myself: “They’re tired, had a bad day, didn’t get enough sleep last night?”

I few half-hearted nods from the crowd.  All possible explanations, but I could tell that no one was really buying it.  Slices of pizza were now frozen halfway between plates and mouths as the audience waited attentively.

“Maybe because they are afraid?  Don’t know what to do?”

A look of astonishment and then understanding flashed across a dozen faces.  It was like a weight was lifted off their overburdened shoulders.  Faced with difficult and life changing decisions, physicians often react with anger and annoyance due to frustration.  It rarely has anything to do with the nurses themselves.

This reaction is neither professional or acceptable.  And I try to modify my own behavior accordingly.  Some days I am more successful than others.

But at least today, a good day, a handful of caring people left the lecture room with full bellies and a sense of well deserved vindication.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician and founder, CrisisMD.  He blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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