COMMENTARY

The 'A' Word: Are Doctors Arrogant?

Leslie Kane

Disclosures

June 17, 2014

In This Article

Arrogance or Self-confidence?

"Arrogance is totally different from self-confidence," says Dr. Stuart. "When you're confident, that's your assessment of your own competence. You have the experience and the wisdom, you know what you can do, and your confidence says that. It's your relationship to yourself and your own expertise," she says.

Arrogance is a different ballgame. "This has to do with your judging that other people are inferior," she says. "It has more to do with not seeing other people as being up to your standards."

Could the confidence that comes with being accomplished and successful make someone arrogant? Typically no, says Dr. Stuart. The trait of arrogance develops or resides within a person at a much earlier stage, arising from one of two paths:

"I am indeed better." Someone who has always lived a privileged life, feels entitled to all of the finer things, or has always been looked up to may take it as a given that he or she is better than others. "People who had a sheltered, protected existence with no perception of what the real world is like for other people may consider themselves an elite group, entitled to feel superior," says Dr. Stuart.

"I made it, so why can't you?" By contrast, a person who was deprived as a child and worked very hard to pull himself up by the bootstraps may then look down on others who don't have the same perseverance or initiative to take charge of their life and create similar success.

Doctors Are Harried and Pressured; Patients Are More Demanding

Some doctors have admitted that at times it's hard to maintain their patience, and frustration triggers a snappish response. Throw into the mix the fact that doctors may have less time to see each patient and answer questions, and you have the ingredients for a negative interaction.

"I've had eight years of medical education and I've been trying to get my patient to make healthy lifestyle changes, and he comes in with a page ripped out of a tabloid, convinced that the information is right...there's a limit to how much time I can spend 'educating' or convincing them that their 'cure' has no scientific basis," one physician told me.

People have come to expect the stance of "the customer is always right" and get annoyed if doctors don't accede to all of their requests. But because of new medical practice guidelines, a doctor may not readily give the patient the test or medication they ask for. "Now, with healthcare insurers and companies setting limits on doctors, many times the patient feels that the doctor is not so much on their side, and this could be perceived as arrogant," says Dr. Stuart.

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