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When Your Supervising Physician Sucks

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

This is a topic I do not see discussed often, but it happens. I am hoping it does not occur often, but it would be remiss of me to think we are beyond supervising physicians being total asses. Ok, that may be harsh, but when a supervising physician (SP for short) does not respect their professional colleagues, what else do you call it?

How does this occur? I do not fully know, but I have some speculation. I think SPs that fall into this category have a general issue with other healthcare providers (HCP) that are not physicians. They believe a physician is at the top of the ladder, knows all, and knows more than any other HCP that is part of the team. I believe their ego is too big and they feel intimidated by the presence of others in the same arena. They have grown up and lived an elitist life and they believe no one is really on their level. It is arrogance, narcissism, and a lack of awareness. They lack interpersonal skills and believe they are above reproach.

In my 19 years of working in healthcare, there was only one time a doctor made me cry, but I have had a couple try to disrespect me. The crying incident was when I was a nurse intern. I made the mistake in the ER of not putting an IV in before giving nitroglycerin to someone that had chest pain. I did put the IV in after, but the doctor handed my ass to me in front of everyone! I was learning, I was new and never had that experience before. I thought I was helping the staff because they were drowning and patients and this patient was having chest pain. I was also 20 years old and did not think to correct him. I remember being so frustrated and embarrassed that the tears just fell. After that, I told myself to never let anyone disrespect me again.

At my first job as a physician assistant, I worked for a doctor that screamed, yelled, and threw things. He got a kick out of being condescending and making people cry. He had the right one to try it with when he hired me. I am a hard worker and was always at work early and leaving late. One day I left work after being at work for 12 hours to attend my friend’s birthday party. He called my phone and asked me why was I being lazy. He then told me he was interviewing someone that did not seem as lazy as me. I think he expected me to beg. I told him I was glad he was interviewing someone and I hope they get the job. He did other things during that year, and when I was fed up with him trying to push my buttons, I told him “stop talking to me crazy. My dad is bigger than you and will not tolerate you talking to me like that.” When I gave him my notice to quit, his response was “oh, I see you’re a quitter.” I got close, looked him in his eye, and told him “nope, I just hate it here. This is not the environment you would someone you cared about to work in.”

Disrespect from a supervising physician can look like passive-aggressiveness. It can be down-talking your profession in front of you and others. It can be using profanity and barking commands. It can be them constantly cutting you off during patient presentations and being condescending. It may be them inadequately training you for the position, then yelling at you for a mistake, or not doing something how they would have done it. Disrespect could be them not utilizing you for what you were hired to do.

How do you handle this? First, confirm the disrespect. Sometimes we are sensitive and may be overreading something that occurred only once. Even in this instance, I recommend the following steps.

  1. Collect yourself (breathe) and talk to your SP in private. Do not stoop their level if they caused a scene in front of others. Matter of fact, do not give them the satisfaction of arguing with them. Pause and talk in private. You want to uphold your integrity, no matter how challenging it may be.

  2. Tell them exactly what they did and that you feel disrespected. People seem to have a short memory when they do something wrong.

  3. Expect an apology, but do not hold your breath. If they are an ass at baseline, their pride won’t allow them to apologize, even if they are blatantly wrong. If they do not apologize, do not fret or create a scene. Take note and recognized the relationship for what it is. If they cannot respect you, the relationship will not be healthy and last.

  4. Tell them clearly what your expectations are going forward, including how a situation like this will not be tolerated again.

  5. Keep receipts. Write down on paper or email yourself the incident, the date, the time you had the conversation with your SP and save it. You may need to refer to this to file a formal complaint with human resources. You want to write down as many details of the incident as you can remember as soon as possible. Time makes things blurry.

  6. Make an exit plan. Depending on how bad the incident was, especially if they did not apologize or see their behavior as wrong, plan your exit. This can be challenging depending on your work experience, but sometimes it is best to move around.

  7. Do not take their actions personally. Often, they are dealing with their own insecurities and are narcissistic, power-hungry individuals. They are not used to dealing with someone who is not just going to take what they serve.

  8. Set boundaries with people. No matter their credentials and experience, they are still just people.

Remember, people will treat you how you allow them to treat you! What recommendations do you have? I’d love to hear!

Dr. Jackie the PA

*Disclaimer: All views and opinions are my own and do not represent any organization I am affiliated with, no previous or current employer. All posts are for informational and/or entertaining purposes.

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