Saturday, October 6, 2007

MD/PhDs are people, too

A theme has emerged lately, and I've been thinking about it a lot.

The first incident was a comment made by a higher-up my husband was meeting with to discuss his then upcoming residency applications. Now, I know I'm biased, but my husband kicks just about all the academic ass there is (it ain't braggin' if it's true). The guy is just amazing. Reduce him to numbers, and he's amazing; look at his personal recommendations from all kinds of people, and he's amazing. He basically lacks chinks in his application armor. Yes, his armor is chinkless. It's actually quite exasperating, following a guy like that through the program. But that's a discussion for another day.

Anyway, the doc he met with was very nice and supportive and was going through my hubby's app with him, making various suggestions about how to present things, etc. The really interesting thing came when they started talking about letters of recommendation. You are only allowed so many, so they usually advise you to chose the authors carefully. My husband had a long list of impressive people who said they would be happy to write him a great letter (did I mention exasperating?) and was asking the doc's advice on which would be best to include. Here is what they guy said.

"It's important, since you are an MD/PhD, to have a letter which says you can interact well with patients and staff. People tend to think of MD/PhDs as lab geeks who lack social skills."

We both thought that was interesting, but mostly just funny. I mean, at least in our program, there are tons of really cool people who have sufficient to superfluous social skills. Yes, there are definitely individuals whose social abilities are roughly equivalent to, say, Michael Myers, but I know quite a few straight MD students who are the same. I don't think the percentages are any different; if anything, I'd argue that there are more functional MD/PhDs. So, I had decided that that particular doc had maybe had some unfortunate run-ins with socially handicapped mudphuds, and was therefore unfairly biased.

Then, just a few weeks after that, I was hanging out with my family medicine preceptor and another doc in his practice, and one asked the other about something, I can't even remember what, but something about the disease I studied for my PhD. The other doc didn't know, but I did, so I started explaining how we thought things worked and a little about my research. This started some teasing on their part which continued throughout the remainder of my rotation, and the gist of the teasing was: Boy, you sure are a science nerd! I thought it was odd, since the "science" they teased me about knowing was the basis of medicine, but whatever.
Additional thoughts on this were:
1. I know I probably do qualify as a science nerd, and
2. I did actually like both of the docs quite a bit, but...
3. HEY!
Perhaps I wouldn't have even remembered all of this, except for the real corker, which was that at the end of the rotation when my preceptor was evaluating me, he told me how amazed he was that I was maybe the best med student he had ever had when it came to interacting with patients and staff, "even though you're an MD/PhD."

Okay... WHAT?

And possibly, HEY!

I don't get it. What do people see us as? Giant albino cave-dwelling mutants with a crippling stutter? Or maybe we can only carry on conversations if the topic is meiosis in fruit flies? Allow me to re-emphasise that some of the weirdest, least socially functional people I have ever met are either 1. doctors or 2. training to be doctors. Are there total freakish, socially inept dorks in research? Does the pope wear a funny hat? Of course there are. But let he who is without dorkiness cast the first stone, docs.

It also kind of scares me that there are doctors out there that think of science as "nerdy". HELLO! You're a flippin' doctor, man! Have you really divorced medicine from science to the point where you can feel like a varsity jock compared to the nerdling members of the Chemistry Club? Give me a break.

I will not even go into how they actually said that it was a good thing I was already married, because being a female "super smart science nerd" is not appealing to men.

Excuse me for a moment of stunned silence.

Okay, I'm back. Anyway, in my thinking about this, I've been wondering: Is our program an exception? Are most MD/PhD's social bulls in the china shop of medicine? Are we really that much geekier than regular doctors? I mean, we can't be more socially inept than most surgeons, right? If I had a nickel for every time I saw a surgeon make a patient cry, I'd have--let's see--at least 25 cents... which, okay, is not a lot, but let's not forget I haven't been in the clinic very much. What if I told you that once, after the very empathetic move of breaking the news that a patient had cancer by reading it directly from the chart to her, a surgeon I worked with was distracted by the crying of the patient, paused the reading aloud mid-sentence, looked up from the chart and said (clearly irritated), "Can I go on?"

I mean, we can't be worse than that, can we?

In closing, I would like to say that I know lots of super great mudphuds, and we are not mutants, thank you very much, and we may be smart and enjoy learning but there is no need to assume that we are all weirdo loser geeks who never talk to normal people. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go catalog my Star Wars figurines.


Old MD Girl said...

I had an experience similar to this recently that I just wrote about on my blog. Your post was better so I linked you. I hope that's ok.

Good luck getting back into the clinics!

Dr.VonB said...

Thanks! It's interesting that mudphuds everywhere are having a similar experience. MD/PhDs Unite!! We're here... we're normal... get used to it!