Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | November 21, 2009

Some Doctors

When I give talks to groups of people dealing with chronic illness, I suggest to the audience that some doctors might be a better “fit” for some people than for others. This way I don’t offend anyone. But most understand through experience that some doctors are, unfortunately, arrogant and disrespectful towards their patients.  I remember being rudely treated by a specialist I was sent to see when I was a teenager. I witnessed bad behavior towards patients first-hand as a medical student. Unbelievably, I have still been treated rudely on occasion, even though the physician knows I am one, too!

As patients, we can sometimes find ourselves in a double bind. We may feel we need to continue to see the arrogant doctor to get the “best” medical care. If we move on because of his or her bad behavior, we may worry that we are doing so at the expense of our future health.

A good short memoir that addresses the double binds patients may experience is called At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness, written by medical sociologist Arthur W. Frank. As he deals with a heart problem and then cancer, Frank chronicles what he notices about himself, the healthcare system and the situations he must confront. The book is also filled with gems of wisdom about how illness challenges us to find meaning.

I’ll address this topic more in future posts. For now I’ll just say that you have the right to be taken seriously and treated with respect. I know it can be hard to stand up for yourself, especially when not feeling well, but would you tolerate disrespectful behavior from a supermarket cashier? Wouldn’t you ask for the manager? If the manager was also rude, would you return?

You have the right to discuss perceived rude behavior with your doctor. Of course, I recommend doing so in calm and civil manner, and with the understanding that this is about your self-care. Sometimes the problem may have been a misconception or an unavoidable circumstance. If your doctor doesn’t want to listen, becomes defensive or doesn’t change, then you have the right to move on. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.



  1. Nice piece on an important and common issue. I’d like to add a little bit.

    True, sometimes docs can be short or arrogant or even mean, and afterward be totally unaware of their anti-therapeutic effect.

    The only way they can hear of patients’ dissatisfaction–or satisfaction, for that matter–is from patients themselves.

    I make it a point to give feedback after every visit to my doc. They’re usually pleasant and productive (I don’t think they get a lot of compliments, and they eat it up). Sometimes I criticize. E.g., “How is it that the person who takes my vital signs never, never introduces herself?” Believe me, they act on it.

  2. Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate your input.

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