The Doctor Role
The word "role" had its origins in the theater; it began to find its way into the literature of the behavioral sciences as early as the 1920s. The roles we take on in life are learned, just as actors in the theater must learn the roles that they play. And each role that we experience--for example that of mother, father, teacher, friend, patient, doctor--is fraught with cultural and steeped in tradition. The doctor's role is particularly complex and intriguing.
The role of the health-care practitioner is imbued with a symbolism far more powerful than that of any individual in our society. The doctor role traditionally is active, whereas the patient role is passive. The doctor role is powerful, while the patient role traditionally is powerless. The doctor role is very knowledgeable, while the patient role traditionally is not.
These roles, once learned, are difficult to change. "One reason lies in the unconscious nature of this kind of social interaction. Like speaking a well- rehearsed part or driving a car, the many words and actions that make up 'acting like a doctor' and 'acting like a patient' become automatic and escape our awareness." Another factor is a "mortal fear of committing improprieties" that inspires people to work hard at maintaining their social roles, regardless of whether to do so is in their best interests. 1
When doctors begin their education, they are not yet comfortable in the traditional doctor role. Many start out being familiar with only the role of patient. But, slowly, they are indoctrinated into the mysteries of the doctor's role, and they are granted the symbols of their new power.
Let's go back to when you first started feeling the power of this role: