Thursday, 22 March 2007

Keeping up appearances

Last night I was browsing again through "A Fortunate Man", the book which gives this blog its title. Jean Mohr's B&W photographs are wonderfully atmospheric, but I was particularly intrigued by the appearance of the doctor himself, John Sassall. He is very "1960s rural GP" with tweed jacket and horn-rimmed glasses. There is a picture of him at his desk, bent over some notes and dictating a letter, in which he looks very old and almost near retirement. In the close-up shots, where he is not wearing glasses, his face looks worn and lined though the eyes sparkle. I was taken aback to realise, while reading the text, that he was slightly younger than I am now.

I discussed this with Martha, my extremely gifted partner who is always indulgent towards me, and hence my favourite among the partners. She pointed out that we dress differently nowadays, and our patients would be surprised and probably nonplussed if I dressed that way. It's true that I usually turn up in a saggy jumper, and on the odd occasion that I wear a smart jacket the staff look at me twice and ask if I'm going for a job interview. We suspect that dress does influence our patients' perception of us. The bits of research that I have seen on the subject suggested that patients don't notice unless the doctor turns up in a torn teeshirt, but probably there are more subtle things going on that the research did not identify. It might be interesting to compare my average consulting time when wearing the usual saggy jumper and when kitted out in the smart jacket.

This afternoon being my half day I went into town where I met a friend of mine who was excited about her new doctor: "he's brilliant, just like you Andy!" I asked her for further and better particulars. "He looks a bit dishevelled, after working all day but he listens, you know, really listens!" She knew I was pulling her leg, but agreed with my suggestion that the ideal GP is slightly dishevelled and listens well.

Looking dishevelled is easy, it's the "really listening" that's tricky. I suspect it may be like sincerity - once you can fake that, you've got it made.


A. said...

Interesting, I can remember two of our registrars saying they had to be very careful what they wore, or the patients wouldn't speak to them. Mind you, one was in his thirties and looked about 18. He said if he dressed casually patients would back away from him!

Dr Andrew Brown said...

I dress in clothes that I feel comfortable with, so I'm not pretending to be what I'm not. No one would mistake me for 18!

A few years ago I gave up wearing a tie in summer. More recently I gave up wearing a tie winter. Doctors haven't worn ties in France for ages, as you will know.