Doctors Have A Great PR Story To Tell…But Who’ll Tell It?


I wanted to share some thoughts about a recent article entitled: “Doctors: You have a PR problem.”

The article, written by a female ob-gyn, describes how the media typically portrays physicians as arrogant and money hungry. In addition physician advice is now routinely discarded in favor of that from bloggers, nurses, midwives, and holistic practitioners.

Finally it describes how nurses and midwives have flagrantly “piled on” to expand their own medical roles (e.g. the NP slogan “Brains of a doctor; heart of a nurse”  and the midwife claim they should now be the “norm for women’s health care.”)

I agree; poor PR has, indeed, contributed to the decline of both physicians' reputation and morale.

Why are we being portrayed so badly? First let’s address the elephant in the room. Nurses are female; doctors are perceived as “arrogant white males.” What’s more, unfortunately there are legitimate reasons nurses and newly empowered consumers now enjoy beating up on physicians.

My observation is patients still fault many physicians bedside manner…and while controversial I think that perception comes largely from profession's prior male dominance. Look, for instance, at how successfully nurses and midwives have played the gender card. Look at how hospitals work so hard to show the diversity of their physicians.

The shame is physicians have a great PR story to tell. That story is about the “new generation” of physicians which is 50% female, has many more minorities, has more altruistic motives, is interested in a true partnership with patients, and is not responsible for the excesses of the past.

That updated story of our profession is accurate…and deserves to shared. I just wonder who’ll pay the marketing dollars to do it. Most physicians are employed and any health system’s PR budget goes into branding the institution, not its physicians. In fact employers benefit from internecine conflict and by positioning their physicians as just another component of the “treatment team.”

As for the AMA and other medical advocates, they’re opportunists. They’ve been silent through decades of physician decline; and now they know the power and money has shifted from physicians to their employers.

The doctors who are left turn to firms like mine. They tend to be group practices, orthopedic surgeons, and “niche” physicians (e.g. plastic surgery, infertility, concierge practices). These are rare entrepreneurial holdouts determined to avoid employee status. Frankly, I wish there were more of them.

The good news is that a new generation of physicians really does have a wonderful story to tell. The bad news is no one left has a vested interest in telling it.



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