I'm afraid my boyfriend won't be a good doctor

He seems curt and insensitive when he talks about his patients.



Cary Tennis
September 21, 2005 8:16PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am a young woman (23) living with my slightly older boyfriend (26) whom I have been with off and on for a little over three years. He is in his final year of medical school in the city where we live. I think that he is wonderful, patient, caring and fun. However, I have this nagging feeling that he isn't going to be a very good doctor. When he talks about his patients and talks about talking to his patients, it often makes me uncomfortable. I feel like he sounds insensitive and curt, but for all I know that could just be the way he is telling it. I really have no idea what he is like in the examination room ... but still I can't get rid of the feeling.

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I know it isn't really my business, but should I be worried about my significant other's career success? Is this indicative of a larger problem? Is there any way to let him know that I feel this way without coming off as a huge jerk? Am I a huge jerk for even thinking about this? Should it be important to be proud of your companion's professional life, or should the personal and professional be seen as completely separate? I think that he is a wonderful person and I hope that he will be amazing at what he does, but if he isn't, is that any place for me to step in?

I am the child of well-respected physicians, and have grown up watching them care about and excel at what they do. My relationship with them is far from perfect, so it doesn't make sense to me that I would want my boyfriend to strive for similar levels of success. I'm also not always the most driven person, so why should I demand that my boyfriend live up to the standard set by my parents?

Mostly I just want to know this: Is there any need to care about and become invested in your boyfriend's career, especially if it is going well, he is on a track to at least having a career, and all doubt is completely speculation? Or am I just telling myself this is what the problem is when really there is a larger unhappiness?

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Guilty and Judgmental

Dear Guilty,

You ask several questions about the appropriateness of things that you feel. You ask whether it should be important to be proud of your companion's professional life, if there is any need to care about and become invested in your boyfriend's career.

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You hint that you have already made some observations and reached some conclusions, but are not sure it is right or proper to make such conclusions, or even to think about and care about such things. What that indicates is that these conclusions trouble you in some rather significant way. You are asking how to handle the conflict between what you feel toward your lover as a person and how you judge his performance as a future doctor.

The first thing I would suggest is that you fully acknowledge that you have these feelings and judgments. Right now, by questioning whether it is proper and right to have them, you seem to be holding them at bay, keeping them provisional, preventing them from coming to fruition as balanced, nuanced, informed judgments. Perhaps that is because there are some rather powerful emotions behind them.

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So let's start with the way your boyfriend talks about his patients. It seems curt to you, insensitive. What does he say? Does he say his patients are ugly and stupid? Or is it the way he says it? Does he talk about their ailments as if the ailments were their fault? Does he seem not to be interested in them as people, as fathers, mothers, students, etc.? Does he seem to look down on them, as though they were ignorant, powerless people?

As you explore this, I suggest you also consider what his behavior reminds you of. Were there certain doctors in your childhood that you disliked, who scared you or insulted you? What about your own father? Was he always caring and concerned in his examination room, or did he too sometimes seem curt and insensitive? And what do you yourself believe? Is it possible for a man to be a good doctor even though at times he seems curt and insensitive?

Also ask what you yourself feel. When you make these observations about your boyfriend, do you feel angry at him? Afraid to speak up? Are you at times playing the role of the doctor's daughter, an observer whose opinion is not significant? What about your own ambitions? Does your boyfriend show interest in what you are doing with your life? What are you doing with your life?

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These are questions that you yourself must answer.

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