human behavior

The new currency

Posted in Habits & Manners, Health & Medicine by humanb on April 19, 2010

For the next week in med school I rotate through anaesthetics. Today was my introduction to the field, and I spent the day shadowing a senior anaesthetist and his trainee. I’ll call the anaesthetic trainee ‘Dr. S’.

The senior anaesthetist was fantastic. He was eager to teach, happy to answer my stupid questions, open to my doing procedures, and patient with my sluggish comprehension. Dr. S was another matter. He refused to let me try procedures, and despite my watching him with interest and curiosity, explained absolutely nothing of what he was doing. He gave only annoyed monosyllabic responses to most of my questions, and when I asked him about a particular drug “x”, he looked at me like I was an idiot and said:

“Drug x is drug x. What do you mean ‘What is it?’ Go read a pharmacology book.”

I’ll do that.

On the drive home I was trying to understand Dr S’s attitude. He could have been in a lousy mood today. Or he could have been sick of teaching med students the same things repeatedly. Or he could have had med students come through before who had behaved badly in the operating theatre, or who had showed him too little respect. But if I’m respectful, behaving well, and expressing an interest throughout the week, and his behavior doesn’t change, these explanations won’t do.

I’ve got another explanation in mind. This guy strikes me as one of those people who treat knowledge like money. They’re loathe to share it if they worked personally to gain it. If you don’t have it and seek it from them, they resist you. Resent you. They want you to work just as hard for it as they did. To get it from them is to mooch.

This view is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances. Reasonable in others. Even right in some. But not this one.

I don’t fault medical students for this view (and we’re all prone to it). Students don’t have an ethical obligation to help their fellow classmates, although it’s the moral thing to do. But I do fault a doctor for this attitude.

Students learn as much from books as from doctors, and it is precisely the responsibility of doctors to impart their knowledge to those who follow them. It’s how we ensure the continuity of standards in medical practice. This Dr. S. continues to learn every day from his more experienced colleagues, yet he couldn’t be bothered to spread the wealth.

When my classmates and I are doctors, I’ll expect our attitudes and behavior to change, if not our instincts. After all, we’ll become members of a team dedicated to a mission greater than our own interests. The more senior doctor recognizes this, although I suppose there’s also a certain comfort and security in senior leadership positions that inspires generosity. But unlike Dr. S., I suspect the senior doctor was also a man who found the practice of treating knowledge like money to hoard, more than a little ridiculous, and ultimately helpful to no one.

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2 Responses

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  1. condore said, on April 20, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Dr. S, has not yet learned that he could lose his own knowledge or his knowledge can be taken away from him by some strange occurrence. He could also be in a position where he could need treatment from one of his younger students. If that happened, he would wish he was more giving.

  2. bcrowderjackson said, on April 20, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Outstanding. You see this a lot in the field of higher education. Many who have gone on to obtain doctorate degrees believe that it comes with a pair of wings and a halo. As one with advanced degrees, I have never been one to consider myself more than the next man because of my accomplishments. It is my humble belief that the knowledge that I have acquired was by no means for my benefit, but for the benefit of those I share it with.

    May God continue to use me as a vessel, in that everything that is given to me or that He has allowed me to acquire, is received and GIVEN AWAY!


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