My Powerful White Coat…One of servitude!

The feeling is near overwhelming!  Putting that long white coat on for the first time is like transforming from Clark Kent into Superman.   Here is the change: When you are wearing a short coat, nobody listens to you.  Put the long one on and they suddenly revere you.  Short coat, you’re just getting in the way.  Long coat, people are getting out of your way.  It’s funny how a little bit of extra cloth can change the way people look at about you.  What’s even funnier is how it changes the way you look at yourself.

So, I’m going to speak the truth… us physicians can be arrogant people.  I mean, can you blame us??  When we walk down the hallway people literally stare.  And to take it one step further, being a minority physician leads to all sorts of “I’m proud of you” comments by non-physician minorities.   They look at us as if we are superhuman and we can sometimes start to believe that.  But as soon as that coat comes off….”he’s just another brother.”  So what does that lead to, a passion for us to keep it on and relish in its power.

Our long coats give us the power to write orders!!! We order nurses around, order physical therapists around, and even order other physicians around.  But, worst of all, is the fact that we try to order our patients around.  Self-reflecting, I see how I get frustrated and mumble angry words to myself when a patient comes in with stage 1 hypertension and isn’t taking the medication I had prescribed.  Or even more annoying is when that 61 year old patient with coronary artery disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease won’t take my advice to put down the cigarette.  I mean, don’t they see that we are the ones wearing the long coat??? Why can’t they understand that we are in charge, not them??

Well, that answer is simple; it’s because we are NOT in charge.  What physicians often forget is that our profession is one of SERVITUDE.  As a young physician, this is something that I continue to struggle with.  My enthusiasm and desire to make my patients better is so strong, that I often forget I am not their Daddy.  The funny thing is that most of my patients are much older than I am, and I’m the one trying to boss them around.   I forget that I am here to serve them!

I have finally come to realize that my powerful white coat isn’t a superhero’s cape; rather it is a simple cheap piece of cloth reminding me to be humble.  It tells me that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to take care of patients in the most intimate of ways, and my job is to help them accomplish their own goals, not my goals for them.   When a patient doesn’t want to quit smoking, I feel as though I am doing them a good service by encouraging them to stop.  But if he or she absolutely refuses, I have no right to look down on them for defying my order because they are in charge of the Patient-Doctor relationship, not me.  I am simply here to serve them.  I’ll end by stating the motto of Meharry Medical College where my wife graduated from: The Worship of God through SERVICE of Mankind.  Ponder That!