How to be an Authentic Doctor #4: Smile


How is that I have to point out the need for one of the most basic human expressions known to man?  I will tell you how.  Look around.  How many doctors do you know that even smile anymore?  It’s almost rare to find one.  I imagine holding a picture similar to the famous bigfoot photograph but this time it is a doctor with a smile on her face.  And everyone would doubt its authenticity.  “That’s a photoshop job!” they would say.

It’s funny because we are taught in medical school that kids are not really sick if they are smiling.  It’s not 100% accurate but it’s pretty close.  What does this say about doctors?  The scowls I have seen over the years and continue to see are just too commonplace.  This is a problem.  The rare doctor I see smiling or looking happy is the one who is soon to be retiring.  I remember one doctor being so happy who had NOT smiled in years.  I asked him why and he told me that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  He wasn’t going to die but he was going to quit practicing medicine.  Crazy, right?  This says more about our profession than any other statistic or study I could find.   It also tells me that a lot of doctors are sick.

Most patients who come to you are either ill or have things wrong with them.   They are in need of a smiling face.  They feel your lack of smile as a lack of happiness.  And it spreads back to them.  Not that you have to smile the whole time but a perpetual frown or face of indifference has far reaching implications.  How many of your receptionists smile?  How about your medical assistants or nurses?  Look around one day as an experiment and let it scare the hell out you.  It’s not all their fault.   They used to smile too but the system beat it out of them just like it beat it out of us.

My advice to you is to find your smile again.  If you can’t find it then force it for a while.   Here is what Dale Carnegie said about smiling:

Your smile is a messenger of your good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds.

Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, “I like you, You make me happy. I am glad to see you.” That is why dogs make such a hit. They are so glad to see us that they almost jump out of their skins. So, naturally, we are glad to see them.

Could you as a doctor do this?  Sure you could but it would take work and you are too busy trying to check meaningless boxes in your EMR or dealing with the 8th problem on someone’s list of complaints or waiting for a healthy young diabetic to take off his shows even though they obviously having nothing wrong with their feet.   So you frown your day away and get your “stuff” done but you go home with the same scowl and ponder whether this job is worth it.

Here is the bottom line.  Smiling will actually make you feel better.  I am not trying to be a touchy, feely guru trying to make you find that inner child but I will tell you this, for some reason, it works.  And it gets others to smile, too.  So, the next time you go to work please force yourself to smile at least once or maybe a few throughout the day.   Do it by thinking of the good things going on in your life.  Or think of something funny that happened in college like the time you drew all over your passed out friend’s face.   Or think of a funny joke, a funny movie, a little kid laughing.  Or think about retiring WITHOUT a diagnosis of cancer.   It doesn’t matter.  Just do it.  Your patients will appreciate it.  Your staff will appreciate it.  And you will appreciate it.

49870cookie-checkHow to be an Authentic Doctor #4: Smile