Doctors aren’t just white coats without a face

Doctors are all the same: A sea of uniform “white coats without a face” caring for “patients without a face.”

They heal the sick. They save lives.

And they drive their fancy sports cars to their expensive homes and cushy lives.

Not.

I am embarrassed to admit, as a pre-med/medical school hopeful, this was my perception of physicians and patient care before completing two summer internships at a doctor’s office.

A problem that the majority of the general public has — “pre-internship me” included — is we forget that physicians are people too. Just like their patients, no two physicians are alike. Each of them has different training, life experiences, and biases. Just like any other human being, physicians have parents, siblings, children (human and fur) and a life outside of work.

The “white coat without a face” misconception may be perpetuated during each patient-physician interaction. Even if a doctor is having a horrible day, even if they are facing a devastating personal loss, they may try to maintain a cheerful smile and sunny demeanor for the sole benefit of their patients. The doctor’s office is like a stage where the doctor is the actor, and the patient is the audience.

Being a doctor is so much more than running a revolving door of “patients without a face.” Patients should not be defined by their constellation of symptoms and disease. Just as physicians should not be considered “just another white coat,” patients should not be considered a stampede of identical drones being herded in and out.

For optimal outcomes, patients need unique, personalized care. Just like individuals … you can give everyone the same chocolate chip cookie, but some people will want white chocolate chips, some will want dark chocolate chips, a few will want no chocolate chips, and there will even be those who don’t like cookies at all.

Patients are the same way. Care must be designed to suit their personal needs and personalities. If the patient is made to feel that they are truly being cared for, then they will be more inclined to comply with treatment recommendations, return for follow-up and recommend friends and family to the physician.

Not only has it changed my understanding of physicians, but my internship has also allowed me to better appreciate other people when associating with them in a business situation. The profession of healing isn’t that different from most other professions.

Every job requires some sort of people skills, and a doctor is no different. I have gained skills I never considered while working as a medical observer that have benefited me in other aspects of my life, lending confidence and poise in a wide variety of situations.

Having seen the effects that being polite, friendly and helpful have on other business people, I was inspired to look at the rest of my social encounters the same way. For instance, I once asked a guy at an airport coffee shop how he was doing, and along with my drink got a short but engaging conversation on opals and his grandmother, who just happened to be born in October (like me).

Who would have thought a “white coat” — stiff, cold, serious and reserved, as well as, slightly intimidating — could have taught me that? Who would have thought that doctors really are warm, responsive, caring and compassionate?

Being a doctor goes far beyond just healing the body. During my time as a medical observer, I witnessed healing of the soul with laughter, smiles and, most importantly, a harmonic connection between a physician and her patients.

Such a unique and rewarding experience is one that every medical student or potential medical student should have the chance to undergo. In fact, any person would find it enormously rewarding to be able to see beyond the seemingly firm and cool exterior of the “white coat” doctor stereotype and truly find that each doctor and each doctor’s style of care is as unique and individual as their patients.

Devon Romano is an undergraduate student.

Image credit: Devon Romano

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