I am a monster.
Or so I think as I relegate myself the darkest place on the internet: the comments section. Here, among the semi-anonymous maze of haters, trolls, religious zealots and the self-righteous, I find myself with my fingers hovering over the keyboard.
You see, NPR recently posted an interesting article about medical students’ depictions of attending physicians and other supervisors for a ‘Comics in Medicine’ class taught at the Penn State College of Medicine. The students’ comics and artistic renderings are hilariously funny, but the point of the article is that the majority of students drew their attendings as monsters.
It’s not hard for me to understand why this is the case. Medical students often feel stressed, worried, or tired, and sometimes they feel berated by the doctors training them. The ‘Comics in Medicine’ class offers an outlet for students’ frustrations, but it also provides insight into how doctors are trained. Many physicians remember feeling horrible during their training, yet instead of promoting change, they treat newer physicians just as horribly and only perpetuate the cycle of abuse. It’s ironic that medicine, a profession which extols health and wellness, should inflict such misery on those within it.
I’m paraphrasing, but as I read through the comments beneath the article a physician from Pennsylvania implies that maybe schools are taking the wrong medical students, and those in training just need to suck it up. (I’m sure no medical student has ever drawn that guy as a monster). I want to call him out. I type a scathing comment. I re-read it over and over, impressed by my razor-sharp wit and vicious rhetoric. Then I delete it and go downstairs to make coffee.
It was such a rush, the notion of belittling someone on the Internet, and that scared me. I can see it’s a powerfully thrilling experience.
I suppose I’m especially aware of the impact of Internet comments at the moment, because a while ago an article I posted on KevinMD got a nasty comment from a doctor in Utah. The discussion was on Doximity—a kind of doctors-only LinkedIn. As I am not a doctor, I wasn’t allowed to see the comments section. I found out about his comment, which criticized my work ethic (I have three master’s degrees, screw you), through a flood of supportive emails from doctors all over the country.
“Don’t worry about that doctor from Utah,” one reply read, “We’re handling him.”
Another from an endocrinologist in New York read, “Your insights are superb, and I’ll be forwarding your URL to my current (and future) students.”
Some doctors sent me helpful links and access codes to e-books they had written. Most offered kind words of support, food, encouragement and coffee—should I ever be in their neck of the woods.
I have seen the best of the best during my medical training and some monsters, too. I don’t want to be one. If it means forgoing feeling powerful and smart all of the time, then I’ll take it—it’s better to actually be smart and influential as opposed to just feeling that way. It’s hard to show love and patience, especially to people that probably deserve getting called out. But I’ll try to make a different choice and find other, more positive methods of discussion. We all have a little monster inside us. It interrupts, tears other people down, and uses self-righteous quips that feel satisfying for a moment before they turn to ash in your mouth.
Let’s be doctors who are kind and loving, even when it is difficult to do so. Let’s be the way forward. Let’s stand up for a better way to train doctors. To the good ones remaining: you inspire us to show empathy, understanding and love. You give us the strength to ignore those who are not as courageous, but rather more like monsters, belittling their colleagues instead of helping implement change.
May they be relegated to the comments section.
Fiona Scott, UC Davis School of Medicine
This article has been edited for publication on WhiteCoated.com. For the original article in its entirety, please see the submitter’s blog. For the NPR article mentioned, please see “Medical Students See Their Mentors As Marauding Monsters”.