I really respect the doctors I have the privilege to work with but sometimes I’m a bit taken aback by the interactions I witness. I was on an inpatient rotation when we met an elderly female patient on our service. Upon entering the room, things became weird quickly and she made numerous sexually explicit comments to the male attending and the male medical students on our team.

When we left the room I asked the attending if he thought it was frontal lobe dementia and he replied in the affirmative. Then, he proceeded to grab the attention of another attending in the hallway and told him that our patient would really like to meet him. The other attending (rather stoic in demeanor) wasn’t really interested in the gossip so my attending then proceeded to go to the nurse’s station to find someone else to loudly discuss the patient with. FYI, many chimed in, to his delight…

I don’t find this funny in any way at all. I feel if this patient was aware of what she was actually saying, she would be beyond mortified. Up until this point I had a lot of respect for this attending but I was really quite taken aback that he wanted to gossip about this patient to anyone who would listen. I really felt that it was a violation of her dignity.

Am I missing something?

Is this a normal kind of humor that attendings maintain to make light of a difficult situation?

I would love to hear any thoughts anyone has on this! It really has been bothering me a lot lately and I wonder if I should have done more to speak out against what I witnessed. Unfortunately, medical students really are at the bottom of the totem pole and I’m not sure it would’ve been appropriate for me to directly contradict him but I’d love to hear if anyone would have handled this situation differently.


(The picture in this post is from Ithaca, NY overlooking a frozen Cayuga Lake)

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