Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Multiple Personalities

It wasn't the first time I've seen the concept, but about a month ago GruntDoc pointed out that he has a "work persona." He acts differently at work -- and among different people at work -- than he does at home or with his family and friends. Here's how his wife describes it:
Wife: "When I saw you first, you were on the telephone; I listened, and you were pissed. Then, when we talked you were your normal self, and then when you turned around you were pissed again."
Me: ?really?
Wife: "Yes, it was remarkable."

Then in response to this post of mine (about counseling an uncertain pregnant woman) Flea included this in the comments:
...It's an approach that I hope to take with me in my professional life (and perhaps other lives as well). But I hadn't thought of applying it to patient encounters.

These two comments make me realize anew something I have always thought of as one of my strengths as a physician (and as a person, for that matter): I am always the same.

Of course I speak and act differently in different kinds of situations and with different kinds of people. But the basic way I communicate with people is the same, whether I'm in an exam room with a new patient, a hospital room with a dying patient, or on the sidelines of the soccer field with the other parents. I have only one persona -- a flexible, almost chamelionoid one, granted -- with which I present to the world. I believe patients sense this, and it is the reason I have been told that I am "genuine."

I am not saying that GruntDoc and Flea are artificial, nor that their patients don't appreciate how they communicate. Not at all! Just that I believe I have integrated my various roles in life well enough so that different parts of my persona enhance, rather than subjugate. It also implies that I'm not afraid to share parts of myself and my experiences -- when appropriate, of course -- without fear of being thought "unprofessional." And that's the really interesting thing: somehow the idea of being "professional" and "genuine" have become separated.

An image that I used long before ever meeting Miliner's Dream was this: I don't wear many hats. I just wear one very large, elaborate one; one where all the pieces combine and enhance. (Cue the Las Vegas Showgirls hats.)


At Thu Nov 16, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger 593 said...

Hey, we need a visual on this one! ;o) BTW, genuine is good . . .

At Thu Nov 16, 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Richard A Schoor MD FACS said...

Being a true professional is part of our personas, as physicians, and this enables us to "turn it on or off" on demand. This ability does not make us less genuine but instead makes us genuinely professional.
Good post.

At Thu Nov 16, 06:19:00 PM, Blogger Allen said...

I used to 'be myself' at work: relaxed, joking, friendly smiles-all-around.

And, nothing got done.

I didn't choose to be a little grumpy at work, I think I discovered it's just the best way for me to be, there.


At Thu Nov 16, 11:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to check out an excellent exploration of the subject, see Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist." Its theme is that we are not just what we are, but also who we are when we are with other people.

One way to look at it is this way: Our characters are not just inert things. We cannot just be, we also act. Our actions define ourselves. So, in different siutations when we respond differently, we become different people. I don't think there is necessarily a discrepancy between continuity of identity and our chameleon natures. Our personalities are, in effect, being in action, if that makes any sense.

If our personalities could not adapt to different environments, but were never changing, it would not be useful to have one.

Thanks for an interesting post.

At Fri Nov 17, 06:21:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Very cool point, Mchebert. Thanks.

At Sat Nov 18, 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Now I'm picturing a Doctor Suess-y style talllll hat with stripes, sequins, burlap, surgical blue material, all in a quilt-patchwork.

Hh :)

At Sat Nov 18, 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Fat Doctor said...

Husband and I just tonight discussed how I alter my persona according to what I think will motivate a patient to either change or keep doing what they do well. For some patient's, I'm ultra-concerned and quite touchy-feely. For others, I'm like an angry drill seargent. Still, I'm always the same person inside. I just communicate differently as the situation warrants. I think it confuses my students.

At Mon Nov 20, 04:56:00 PM, Blogger MedStudentGod (MSG) said...

As one surgeon put it: When I was me I never got the stuff I really needed. Everyone assumed I'd be the nice guy and just deal with it. I finally had to throw a "tantrum" to actually get people to listen to me.

I think there are professions where an emotional and physical expectation is expected. When a doctor doesn't fulfill that they are viewed as push overs until they react as expected.

Personally, I've had trouble changing roles between the student and the husband/ father leading to the occasional fights. It's quite eye-opening to realize how much we do change to meet certain criteria or expectations.


Post a Comment

<< Home