Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where Were The Doctors?

Last week, I attended an all-day conference on mind-body medicine here in Santa Fe. At the beginning of the day, the speaker obviously wanted to know the professional make-up of her audience, so she called out various professions and had us raise our hands in response. Of course, nurses made up the majority of the approximately 225 people in the crowded room, and psychologists, counselors and social workers were also very well-represented. And when she asked about doctors, only one person raised his hand. A murmur rippled through the crowd, and there was much ironic laughter. So, where were the doctors?

The presenter for this conference is a well-respected speaker and researcher with a long history at UCLA and UCSF, and her credentials are very impressive. In terms of quality of information, she drew her data from well-run research by her many peers in the fields of psychoneuroimmunology and mind-body medicine, and her grasp of the material was impressive (even if her delivery could have been more dynamic, but that's another story). From nutrition to cancer to mindfulness, she delivered interesting and thought-provoking material that could very well alter medical practice--or at least suggest new ways of thinking and approaching patient care.

Chatting with some of my fellow audience members during breaks, I asked why they felt there was only one doctor in the room, and most simply shrugged their shoulders, rolled their eyes, or made somewhat disparaging comments about doctors toeing the party line and being "too busy" for "nonsense" like mind-body medicine. The feeling was almost uniform in its dismissiveness of physicians.

What is it about doctors that can generate such ire on the one hand and such respect on the other? Why do so many patients and other professionals hold doctors' knowledge and authority in such high esteem and then, in the next breath, dismiss physicians as profit-hungry professionals who have no time for knowledge that's ever so slightly out of the mainstream?

As I've said on this blog before, nurses are always at the top of the list when it comes to polls asking Americans to name the most trusted professionals in the country, but doctors are generally within the top three themselves, so we have hard evidence that they're trusted, respected (and highly educated).

Now, I'm not casting aspersions here or trying to denigrate physicians, but I am honestly curious. First, I'm curious why there was only one doctor at this conference out of 225 audience members, and I'm also wondering if this is emblematic of a larger issue or simply a circumstance that does not reflect the bigger picture.

Although nurses are often seen as heroic samaritans by members of the general public, doctors have also been known to perform CPR on planes and in theaters, coming to the aid of those in need. Doctors work in developing nations, volunteer, and also otherwise give back to the community in meaningful ways.

So, the lack of doctors at this conference is one thing, but it also begs the question regarding how we feel about doctors, how we perceive them, and whether our perceptions are accurate or somehow tainted or misguided.

In the media, physicians are often treated with great respect, and more often than not, they are the television heroes while nurses act as foils, handmaidens, or weaker partners in the drama of life and medicine. Fair or not, doctors are often portrayed as more competent than nurses ("Nurse Jackie" aside).

I would love to hear your comments. Again, I'm not calling for wholesale broadsides against physicians. Rather, I want to know why we feel the way we do, what our perceptions are, and whether those perceptions are accurate.

Nurses may be the backbone of the healthcare industry, but physicians are an integral part of the mechanism, and the whole caboodle would truly grind to a halt without them.

Your thoughts and reflections are welcome.


Elizabeth Scala said...

Great observation about the doctors and the polarizing effect the profession can have on people. I see what you are saying. As I was reading I started thinking, "Did anyone invite them? Did they know about the conference? Who was the conference marketed to? Could you have told the doctors you know about it? Could you or the people you know have invited some physicians?"

I only ask these things because I know there are doctors out there who are actually interested in nutrition, meditation, mindfulness, integrative medicine, etc. So they may not have known about this event?

Just my observations and what came to me as I read your post. Thanks for another great article!!

Have a healthy day,

Revealing RN said...


Very interesting post. The more thought I put into determining why this was, I wonder if this is a reflection of the true value of a nurse to not only healthcare consumers, but our physician counterparts. I have worked with some excellent physicians who truly valued the input of his/her nurses so genuinely considered the nurse's thoughts/ideas/suggestions regarding patient care. I am only left to wonder if this is a reflection of how nurses serve as portals of useful information to physicians.


Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...


What a thoughtful and insightful comment. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts, and I'll be certain to visit your website forthwith!