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We are the backroom boys and girls and seldom will we be able to fire the public’s imagination with our conduct and behaviour. As such, appreciation and recognition often pass us by.


A colleague lamented that doctors are an unappreciated lot nowadays. He sounded quite unhappy on the phone but he did not elaborate. For the moment, he only wished to share his sorrow and to get some of it off his chest. Anyway, he got the right person because I am quite popular and good at sharing other people’s grief. It is participating in their joys that I am unaccustomed, for my company is seldom required or wanted then.

Come to think of it, doctors are not the only ones that are complaining. I have come across not a few cases of parents accusing their children, spouses accusing each other, leaders accusing their followers, followers accusing their leaders, employers accusing their employees, employees accusing their employers, authorities accusing those they are in charge of and vice versa, of being unappreciative. To make sure that I have got the meaning of appreciation, the absence of which is causing so much unhappiness, right, I looked up my favourite dictionary. It says “grateful recognition”.

If one is to believe all the complaints that are going around, then it looks like we are having an epidemic on our hands. A non-appreciative society is not a nice place to live in. It is therefore a matter of considerable concern.

Personally, I never pay much attention in the past to this business of “grateful recognition”. I am already grateful to be able to eke out a living. What more can an unfashionable doctor labouring in an unglamorous practice dare to ask for? Although receiving an occasional Thank-you note, a box of chocolates or a basket of flowers gives one a nice feeling, it had never occurred to me that patients owe me any gratitude. But now that someone has brought up the subject, I am curious to find out what patients really think. I conducted a study. The survey form is reproduced below.

“In order to improve our service, we seek your co-operation to answer a simple question pertaining to the doctor in attendance. This is an anonymous survey. No names or addresses please. As a token of our appreciation, two weeks supply of vitamins will be given to respondents. Please collect it from the receptionist when you hand in your reply.

I am (a) very grateful (b) somewhat grateful (c) neutral (d) ungrateful (e) very ungrateful for having the doctor attend to me. Please circle your choice.
Reason(s) for choice______________________________________________________
Thank you and have a nice day.
  Dr G”

I stopped the survey after receiving 50 replies. Not a large number but enough I think to provide some answers, also I don’t know whether giving away free vitamins contravenes the Medical Advertisement Act. The results of the survery shows:
     (a)  very grateful - 1
     (b) somewhat grateful - 2
     (c) neutral - 41
     (d) ungrateful - 2
     (e) very ungrateful - 0
     Spoilt returns - 4

I know who the very grateful one is because he handed the form to me personally. He is an ex-civil servant who is broken in health, wealth and marriage. He lost his foot to diabetes, his savings to the stock-market and his wife to another man. I have been giving him free services for many years.

Of the two that are somewhat grateful, one is a child, to whom I have given an old book of nursery rhythmes, and the other a young lady whom I had advised to break off her engagement. Her boy friend, unknown to her, has a medical condition which makes marriage not advisable. I know because he is also my patient but I can’t remember why she listened to me.

The two ungrateful ones are children I presumed. One said I did not give him sweets and the other commented that I did not issue her a sick certificate to excuse her from participating in sports.

Parts of the human anatomy were drawn on two returns, another one with the word “Rubbish” written across it, and one with the message, “Statistics Lie”.

The result of the survey speaks for itself. It affirms my colleague’s observation that the vast majority of patients do not harbour much feeling for their doctors. Most of them commented that they don’t see why they should, after all they have adequately reimbursed the doctor for his service.

To most people, the relationship between a patient and a doctor is thus nothing more than that of one between a customer and a vendor. Pain and suffering is just another business. Appreciation or gratitude is not part of the deal. When patients and doctors do get involved emotionally, probably it is a liaison of a different kind.

Actually this is not something new, only it is more apparent and obvious nowadays. Our behaviour is shaped by the kind of society we live in. When moneyism is the unofficial religion and the philosophy is every man for himself, there isn’t much room left for gracious behaviour, though we often pay lip-service in order to look good.

I intend to convey my findings and views to my colleague. But before I could communicate with him, he sent me a follow-up note, suggesting how one can show appreciation to doctors.

He wants to have an unofficial “Doctors’ Day” proclaimed, during which Ministers and other big-shots will only say good things about doctors, the media will highlight long suffering junior officers instead of featuring affluent doctors in the company of their arts and crafts, administrators to accompany doctors on their night duties and to buy supper, and hospitals to spend some money on staff welfare instead of using it to publish glossy newsletters, which benefit he thinks, mainly the printers. He hopes to boost the morale of doctors, especially that of the newer and lower ranking ones. His case is rather weak.

Firstly, the profession’s so-called noble image is ailing. Increasingly, as mentioned earlier, doctors are portrayed merely as cari-makans, no different from ordinary shopkeepers and retailers. What is so special about them, people may ask, that they deserve to be specially honoured and remembered?

However, to be fair, we must not forget the many volunteer doctors who are rendering their services beyond the call of duty, in war zones, ghettoes, jungles, or hospices. They truly deserve our recognition, but then they aren’t the types who bother about receiving gratitudes. 

Secondly, doctors lack mass appeal. Compared to suave politicians who solemnly promise to improve our life, bold generals who promise to wipe the enemies off the surface of the earth fearlessly and charismatic priests who promise us everlasting life if we follow them, where do doctors stand? Who will be the ones likely to have statues and monuments erected in memory of them and have roads, bridges, museums, airports and cities named after? Doctors are no match in the contest for the hearts and minds of the masses.

But doctors are different. We make modest as opposed to outrageous promises, we are rational rather than emotional, we appeal to the higher rather than the lower human instincts, we admit failures rather than blame it on others and we play down rather than play up our achievements, knowing how tenous success, like life, can be. We are the backroom boys and girls and seldom will be able to fire the public’s imagination with our conduct and behaviour. As such, appreciation and recognition often pass us by.

But so be it, we get satisfaction in other ways. However for those who really feel let down, perhaps they should remember, “He who expects nothing will not be disappointed.”