“Delicate Geniuses” and Hired Hands

The all-knowing George Costanza

The all-knowing George Costanza

Today I thought about the fact that teachers are held to a standard, criticized openly about the meeting (or lack thereof) of these standards, and often let go when they don’t perform accordingly.  Yet others in the service industry avoid such incessant ridicule, even though their performance affects the lives and well-being of the public as well.  I know I’m probably opening a can of worms here, but I’m talking about doctors.

One of my best friends is a nurse, my husband is a physical therapist, and I have several friends who are doctors, so I hope I don’t offend by going there–but I gotta.  Yesterday I went to the gastroenterologist for my first annual check up after being diagnosed with Celiac.  I’d heard rumors about one particular doctor in the practice–four separate people told me to avoid him, including a doctor in my OB’s office.  So I rescheduled with a woman in the practice who came highly recommended, and I really looked forward to speaking with a woman about my concerns, especially since I’m pregnant.

Now before I go on, I will address some biases.  I went into this appointment expecting to be told that I didn’t really have Celiac disease and it was all a big misunderstanding.  Or, at the very least, that I could go on a gluten binge for a while before being tested again to be sure.  My husband told me I was creating a fantasy that would ultimately disappoint me, and he was right, but I pretended not to hear him when he brought it up.  So, to continue…

Here I sat waiting for my awesome female state of the art doctor to come in, and I am instead greeted by a brusque, agitated middle-aged man–the very man I had been told to avoid.  The first thing he said to me was, “Are you pregnant?  I can’t do anything for you right now.”

I’m not kidding.

Let me address this point now:  Let’s say that on the first day of school, I happened to notice that one of my students has a broken hand, lacks school supplies, or–gasp!–has a learning disability, and rather than work with him or her in the best way I can to provide the best education that I can, I say, “There’s nothing I can do for you right now.”  I would not be employed for long.  Or I might be on the news or someone’s blog as an example of why our public schools are failing.

I explained to him that I really just wanted to be educated on my disease–that no one had really walked me through the ins and outs of it before.  To which he replied, “Well when it comes to the diet, patients really know more about that part than I do.”  I told this to my husband, and although he was appalled by the doctor’s bedside manner overall, he explained that this was pretty typical, even understandable–many doctors diagnose, but know little about the path to recovery.


So, to extend this analogy, pretend that I hand back an essay marked all to hell with red ink, but include no directions or feedback on how to fix the mistakes.  I’m pretty sure that one of the major current criticisms of teachers is their lack of improvement regarding moving kids to the next level after the students have been assessed.  Yet it is considered normal and acceptable for a doctor to tell me what’s wrong with me and not be able to tell me how to get healthy.

Finally, this “delicate genius” told me that I really just needed a good nutritionist, and after I explained to him that I saw a highly recommended one who simply handed me a bunch of packets she had printed from the internet, he continued to harp on the importance of working with a qualified nutritionist.  Fine.  I believe him.  But I don’t often get the luxury as an educator of pawning my students’ problems off on other professionals.  In fact, it is often my sole responsibility to see that they get all that they need for the hour that they’re with me–mentally, emotionally, and physically.  The icing on the cake though was when, after becoming frustrated (and even a little hormone-induced hysterical), I said, “You know I really just want to know details…like would it be the end of the world if I had a beer every now and then?”  And he replied, “They have gluten-free beer!  You know, I really don’t often hear patients complain about the gluten-free diet.  Most are pretty happy on it.”

I wanted to slap him.

But I didn’t slap him.  Instead, he ordered some blood work, and I cried as soon as the nurse entered the room.  She whispered conspiratorially to me that many people felt that way after seeing him.  So let’s recap:  Four people, including another doctor, talked me out of seeing him.  His own nursing staff disliked him.  Many patients left his office in tears.  Yet, he still has a job–a well-paid one at that.

Meanwhile, politicians and well meaning members of the general public, discuss the pros and cons of teacher tenure, the importance of balanced teacher evaluation systems, and whether or not teacher pay, retirement, and school budgets can be sliced ever more slightly off the top.  How is it that a doctor can be terrible at his job and the worst that befalls him is…well, I’m not sure.  No one is debating the security of his job, whether he deserves to be paid, or how to best evaluate his performance.  And if they are talking about it, it’s not public in the same way as teacher reform.

Don’t get me wrong, the way I feel about some of these topics would probably surprise you.  I see the importance of cultivating quality educators, keeping them, and challenging them.  But I do get frustrated with the double standard, and I get really tired of being treated like a misbehaving hired hand while others in public service are treated like infallible gods.  We all owe it to those we serve to give the best care we can, and should be held accountable if we don’t.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.


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