Why Do Doctors Think They Are Superior?

Doctors might think they are superior because of the amount of responsibility and knowledge they have. The job also comes with a lot of pressure – so sometimes superiority might just be mistaken for fatigue or simply being busy! But the answer to the question also depends on who they’re being compared to.

I know I used to have this idea of doctors before I thought about becoming one (it’s a long story). Now, having met more than I ever thought I would, I’ve changed my mind. Sure, there are some doctors (and med student colleagues of mine – not naming names) who think they’re better than everyone. But there are also a lot of down to earth and humble ones too.

Still, perhaps the question needs more analysis. Do doctors really think they’re superior? If so, why?

God Syndrome: Status Not Superiority

Maybe it’s patients more than doctors who are responsible for seeing doctors in a superior light. Afterall, their role is to try and cure nature. With powers (knowledge and the ability to prescribe medication) that the patient doesn’t have.

Writing in Psychology Today, Nassir Ghaemi M.D., mentions the idea of “god syndrome” in discussion of the physician-patient relationship. Rather than suggesting physicians think they’re god however, the idea is about the dichotomy itself (and the position doctors have over patients). Perhaps it’s that which gets mistaken as “superiority”.

We all know – we doctors and patients – that doctors are not gods, yet, at some level, we are disappointed by that fact. We doctors would not mind being gods, if it were possible, I suppose; and patients would accept our divinity if it meant their restoration to health. But it does not work that way.

Nassir Ghaemi M.D.

Personally speaking, I remember a time when I used to look at med students as intellectual Gods – given the competitiveness and difficulty (I assumed) involved becoming one.

But perhaps the simple truth was that they were just people. People who, before I eventually became one myself, studied something I felt (at the time) was well beyond my capabilities.

Maybe that same reasoning is why a lot of people feel doctors are superior (or think they’re superior) in the first place. Because they place themselves below them in some kind of percieved hierarchy. Or feel vulnerable (because you go to them, powerless yourself, for help or a cure) in their presence.

The reality is though that they’re just doing a job. A job they’ve been trained (and spent a lot of money, for the most part) learning to do.

That doesn’t make them superior. Not in any objective way at least.

Doctors With A Superiority Complex

Obviously there are doctors who definitely do feel they’re superior to everyone else. Being humans, that’s just an inevitable fact. But it’s probably easily exacerbated by the role they have too.

Spend any good amount of time reading the internet (or talking to nurses) and you’ll probably learn as much. But besides from being an opinion, what reasons might they have to think they’re better than everyone else?

These might be some:

  • Ego: doctors are often the leaders in a healthcare environment. Sometimes that power can go to someone’s head. Especially when it comes to ordering or directing other people.
  • Inexperience: not all physicians have decades of experience behind them and the confidence that goes with it. Sometimes a lack of both can manifest in ugly ways.
  • Salary: doctors earn more than the average national salary in most countries. For some, that might lead to a material mindset, where sense of worth is determined by money in the bank.
  • Role: the fact physicians contribute to saving lives can bring an elevated sense of purpose to some. Especially when compared to the modest behaviour of other first responders and frontline workers.

Of course there’s not one contributing factor to a doctor thinking highly of themselves. It could be a mix of these reasons as well as a whole lot more!

There’s also the question of arrogance or superiority in the first place. Is it a negative in the role? Especially given the high stakes and responsibilities involved?

Maybe patient’s feel safer under “superior” doctors than they would one’s visibly wracked with self doubt.

It’s something very subjective.

What To Do If You Feel Your Doctor Thinks They’re Superior

Obviously there’s not much you can do when dealing with a doctor who feels they’re “superior”. Not unless they act unprofessionally or break codes of conduct.

Most of the time you’ll probably just be dealing with a doctor who’s ill tempered or short of patience – see my article: how to respond to a rude doctor. It depends how the superiority manifests!

There’s also a fine line between being seen as superior or being seen as confident.

As people have different opinions on what the other looks like, it’s hard to say what a doctor thinks about themselves and whether that feeling is true. It’s basically just guess work.

The best way to deal with it though is probably just to be patient yourself. Depending on your position (if you’re a colleague or patient etc) don’t try to appeal or massage their ego. But don’t look to point it out either (especially as there’s a risk you could be wrong).

Just ensure whoever you’re dealing with acts professionally. If they don’t, you have ground for complaint.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons a doctor could think they’re superior over many of their colleagues or patients. But there could also exist legitimate grounds for that superiority also. Especially when it comes to experience and expertise.

The key thing here is that it’s in no way all doctors. Many doctors are hard-working, unassuming and very modest. So much so you might not even know they’re doctors half the time!

But many times patients prefer to deal with arrogant or superior doctors (rather than anxious ones). Confidence, to some people at least, can be reassuring. As long as it’s not misplaced.

As a med student learning the ropes though, I believe it’s important to stay humble. I know there’s thousands of other people out there who probably know things better than me. People who can maybe offer more to medicine too.

Maybe being aware of the risk of developing a superiority complex can deter me in the first place. At least that’s what I hope!

Image Credit: @sjobjio at Unsplash