Monday, October 02, 2006

The doctor card

My brothers believe it’s the ultimate trump card, that all I have to do in casual conversation with a woman to win her over is to somehow slip in the information that I’m a medical doctor. Every woman, they believe, is yearning, aching even, to be with a doctor, and the moment I reveal my profession, nothing more need be said. I can simply sit back and let the title do its work.

Stated in general terms, medicine is perceived to be a noble, prestigious, and well paying profession, and its practitioners are thought to be intelligent, dedicated, and compassionate. Yeah, as residents we know it, being a doctor is sexy.

Most of the time, though, we’d rather not play the doctor card; we’d prefer to just fit in. Although we’re privately proud of the hard work that turned us into doctors, we don’t want to flaunt it or flash it in anyone’s face. In DC, where one’s profession comes up early and often in polite conversation, being able to handle the topic tastefully is a particularly useful skill. But how do we reveal our profession graciously without attracting unwanted attention? Is there a way to subtly change the topic and avoid revelation at all? Additionally, for those times when we do want to tap into the prestige of being a doctor, how do we so tactfully?

Coming up with a good strategy for when and how to play the doctor card, and when and how to withhold it, is key to resident survival. In the following guide I humbly introduce and comment on the effective use of several conversational techniques that I have found to be especially useful.

Part I. Techniques of obscuration

These techniques are practical in a variety of situations, but are intended for social settings where downplaying your status as medical doctor/resident may be appropriate. This includes, but is not limited to, situations where:

--your conversation partner has just announced that he/she is newly unemployed
--ten minutes ago a bystander collapsed and you innocently looked on, feigning non-interest
--you’re having difficulty getting out more than a few words at a time because of the four cigars you have stuffed in your mouth
--the rest of the group is laughing about the idiot doctor they just nailed in malpractice court
--you just stiffed your waiter to save a buck
--a smallpox outbreak was just discovered at your hospital
--you were unable to come up with the answer when somebody casually asked, “What’s in Nyquil, anyway?”
--for once you are actually feeling confident enough to get the girl/guy on your own merit

1. Perpetual vagueness:
“So what brought you to DC?”
“Where do you work?”
“At Georgetown.”
“Do you teach there?”
“So what do you do?”
“I work at the hospital.”
“And what do you do at the hospital?”
“I take care of patients.”
“Ok, so you’re a nurse?”
“Uh, something like that.”

Most people will take the hint after the 2nd or 3rd question, and you’ll rarely be pressed to the bitter end. The danger of this technique is that it is known to cause extreme irritation in the opposing party.

2. The spy con:
“What do you do?”
“I work for the government.”
“What type of work?”
“You know, one of those jobs where it’s best not to get into the specifics.”

Since Medicare pays for us, not technically a lie. This technique works best in Washington; in other locations (particularly Red states) people will just think you’re unemployed.

3. Technical jargon:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a house officer performing an elective rotation in electrophysiology. How about you?”
“Say what?”

The more specific, the better.

4. No English:
“What do you do?”
“No English, no English.”

Harder to pull off if you're white.

5. The intern deception:
“What do you do?”
“I’m an intern.”
“Oh really, where?”
“One of the companies in Foggy Bottom.”
“How’s that going?”
“Not bad, not bad.”
“Oh, that reminds me, I have a problem maybe you could help me with. My wife keeps giving me crap about the coffee I make . . .any suggestions on how to keep it tasting fresh?”
“Good one.”

6. The sleight of ear:
“What do you do?”
“What do I think of the zoo? Oh, aren’t the pandas just wonderful?”

Works well in chain sequence. (i.e. “No, I asked what do you do?”. . .“What? There’s something on my shoe? Good heavens!”. . .)

7. The counter attack:
“What do you do?”
“Nice try, asshole. You’re probably some hotshot doctor or lawyer asking me what I do just so I’ll return the question and you’ll be able to show off your impressive job. When’s the last time a janitor asked ‘what do you do?’”

Not recommended for use against women.

8. The beast within:
“What do you do?”
“Excuse me, nature calls.”

Coming soon:
Part II Techniques of disclosure