I am a monster.
I fear I have relegated myself to the darkest, most dank place on the internet.
The comments section.
Here in the semi-anonymous maze of haters, trolls, religious zealots and the self righteous, I find myself, fingers hovering over the keyboard.
You see, this morning NPR posted a most interesting article about how medical students depict their attendings and other supervisors in a 'Comics in Medicine' class taught at Penn State College of Medicine. The comics and artistic renderings of the med students are hilariously funny but the point of the article is that the majority of students drew their attendings as monsters.
Its not hard to understand why. Med students often feel bad, stressed, worried, tired and berated by the doctors training them. The comic class offers an outlet for students and insight into how doctors are trained. Many physicians remember feeling horrible during their training and perpetuate the cycle of abuse. There is work to be done in medical education. And its ironic that medicine—a profession which extols health and wellness, should inflict such misery on those within it.
A physician from Pennsylvania commented on the article that, “maybe they are taking the wrong medical students.” And that those in training just need to suck it up. I bet no medical student has ever drawn that guy as a monster ;). I looked him up. I was possessed by rage. Turns out he has multiple actions taken against his medical license and was fined for lying about the completion of his CME credits. Geez, maybe the “wrong medical students” they take turn into doctors who lie to the medical board.
I want to call him out. I type a scathing comment. Impressed by my razor sharp wit and vicious rhetoric I re-read it over and over. Then delete it, and go downstairs to make coffee.
It scared me what a rush I got at the notion of belittling someone on the internet. I can see the thrill. And its powerful.
I suppose I am especially aware of the impact of internet comments at the moment, because last week my post on KevinMD got a nasty comment from a doctor in Utah. The discussion was on Doximitry—a kind of doctor’s only LinkedIn. As I am not a doctor, I wasn’t allowed to see the comments section. Rather, I found out about his comment, which criticized my work ethic (I have 3 master’s degrees, screw you) by an overwhelming flood of supportive, loving 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.” And then he invited me to lunch the next time I’m on the east coast.
Some doctors sent me helpful links and access codes to e-books they had written. Most offered loving 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--its 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 really deserve getting called out. But I'll try to make a different choice and try to find other, more positives ways of discussion. We all have a little monster inside us. It speaks by interrupting, by tearing other people down and through self-righteous quips that feel good for a second, and 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 who we have the privilege of learning from-- you inspire us to show empathy and understanding and love. You give us the strength to ignore those who are not as courageous—those monsters who would rather belittle than help.
May they be relegated to the comments section.