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Physician = God Complex?

By Dr. Anthony Youn

"I Am God!" proclaimed Alec Baldwin’s Dr. Jed Hill in the 1993 movie Malice. When he revealed his Doctor-God complex, most non-medical viewers were shocked. Doctors and nurses... not so much.

Why do some doctors think they are on par with God?

One night as a third year medical student I was assigned to work with a grizzled, veteran Ob-Gyn doctor for a night of call. At 2 am I went up to the doctor and asked the typical medical student question, "Is there anything I can help you with?" In front of the entire nursing staff he set his face 6 inches from mine, pointed his finger at my face, and said, "There is absolutely nothing, I repeat, nothing you can and ever will be able to help me with." He turned and stormed down the hall. As a medical student, events like this were not uncommon, as there were always certain doctors who took perverse pleasure in making their subordinates feel useless and inferior.

Well, I earned my M.D. and thought that things would change. Now I was a real doctor and other physicians would respect me. Boy, was I wrong. Even with an M.D. after my name I was still a resident, a peon in the eyes of real attending physicians. This was never any more apparent than in the weekly M&M conferences. M&M’s had nothing to do with the tasty candies and everything to do with attending physicians verbally pummeling residents for any complications or deaths that occurred over the last month. Never mind that the patients were the ultimate responsibility of the attendings, or that many of the attendings approved the treatment decisions at the time. Many a time my colleagues entered M&M’s confident resident physicians and exited quivering lumps of self-doubt.

So what causes some doctors to think they are on par with God? Quite possibly the power to make life or death decisions for their patients gets to some doctors’ heads. Physicians are the ones that, with a pen, can write an order for a patient that saves his or her life. However, while we doctors may have the knowledge of what medication may save a life, do we have the ability to administer that medication? Doctors need secretaries to enter the order into the computer, pharmacists to prepare the proper dosage, and nurses to place the IV and administer the medication. Although we often forget it, we physicians do not exist in a health care bubble. We can’t do it alone. Many doctors still type with one finger at a time, have never used a mortar and pestle, and couldn’t successfully place an IV into a vein the size of a pencil. Yes, I’m talking about me.

I have a message to my fellow physicians. We need to lighten up. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. I’d love to write a prescription for "Laughter" for the many doctors who take themselves too seriously. While the act of completing four years of college, four years of medical school, and surviving 3-8 years of brutal residency training is something to take pride in, it doesn’t give us carte blanche to treat others as inferior to us. As a plastic surgeon I am reminded every time I operate that I can’t do it alone. I need someone to gown me, plug in the cautery machine, arrange my surgical instruments and supplies, hold the retractors, and even work my iPod. I try to make an effort to thank the staff who support me each day, but admit that there are times I get frustrated and do not treat my support staff the way they should be treated.

The best compliment I ever received from a nurse had nothing to do with surgical skill or knowledge, but was when she said, "Dr. Youn, you’re one of the only doctors who is one of us". I hope I can continue to live up to that statement.

Signature: Anthony Youn, MD, FACS is a board-certified plastic surgeon and author of IN STITCHES, a humorous memoir about becoming a doctor. Dr. Youn's site is at

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