How Physicians and Attorneys are Different

How Physicians and Attorneys are Different

I read an article once that said pre-med and pre-law students are not much different, but they are very different when they get out of their training.

Some recent experiences have highlighted that fact, and how physicians get into trouble because of those differences.

Pre-med and pre-law students share a commonality of being driven, competitive, type A’s, generally. Both go into the two fields because they feel they can and want to contribute, one to people’s health, and the other to safety and legal protection.

But they come out differently, with medical students having become more introverted, and law students more extroverted.

Law students get into a world where occurrences get judged against the laws, which even when written wisely, require interpretation. The meanings of single words get parsed out carefully, and every word is chosen for its meaning, even to the point of defining every word. Clients often have lots of reason to be dishonest for their own good, and will use words and omissions as weapons and defense.

Medical students enter a world where patients are judged against known medical information, which is often incomplete and sometimes not very scientific, and it is in the best interest of the patient to be truthful, more often than to lie. We learn to trust, mostly, and to try to glean information and focus questions on filtering words and eliciting more information that may be useful, then check what we’re told against a variety of tests designed to clarify and elaborate on what we hear.

Attorneys live in a world where statements are often tinged with exaggeration or outright lies, and their questioning focuses on finding the discrepancies rather than the alignment of various things. Their testing involves more investigation, and finding evidence to support or deny what they have heard, including other witnesses, often equally unreliable.

Asked a simple question, we answer the way we expect our patients to, sometimes reading into the question meaning that is not there in the eyes of the attorneys.

“Have your admitting privileges, staff membership, staff appointment, or clinical privileges at any institution, medical organization, hospital or other health care organization (including but not limited to, professional societies and managed care organizations) ever been voluntarily or involuntarily: suspended, reduced, revoked; denied; relinquished; not renewed or otherwise lost under any circumstances (including, but not limited to, any action, investigation, or threatened or possible investigation relating to professional competence or proper professional conduct)?”

As physicians, we read that from our point of view. Answering that we have never left an organization under adverse circumstances, though we may have left because of moves, job changes, or other benign reasons, answers the medical question because we interpret the desired answer as being pertinent only if there was an adverse circumstance.

The attorney sees that you left out resignations for moves or job changes and seeks the hidden truth, as in, you didn’t really answer the question correctly, because it clearly says, in an attorney’s eyes, “ever… under any circumstances.” We dislike attorneys for their seeking of discrepancies and lies, while we try to provide useful information that answers the intent of the question.

Do you read things differently? Have you gotten into trouble over answers to questions in which no ill intent was meant?

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