Are Doctors “Dickheads?”

    The hashtag #Doctorsaredickheads spread across Twitter this past weekend, with many people weighing in about how they’ve been mistreated by physicians.

    It seems to have started on October 22, when a woman named Stevie posted a Youtube video about her recent diagnoses of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). It took many years and much suffering for her to finally get the right diagnoses. She concluded her video with the words “Doctors are dickheads.”

    As the phrase took off, numerous tweets came from patients with chronic pain.

    “Last pain Dr berated me 3 times about using my wheelchair,” wrote one person. “He also made me quit morphine cold turkey and told me I wouldn’t have any withdrawal symptoms.”

    “Told a doctor I couldn’t sleep because I was in too much pain, they prescribed me sedatives instead of any pain medication,” wrote another.

    Unfortunately, the federal government and media’s scapegoating of the “over-prescribing doctor” as the cause of the overdose crisis has likely contributed to many pain patients being denied treatment.

    Other posts came from people who experienced mistreatment related to their weight—typically doctors telling them to lose weight rather than addressing the reason they were actually seeking help.

    “Once, a doctor recommended weight loss surgery without even asking why I was in for an appointment,” wrote one.

    “I had a GP ask me about my exercise schedule, and before I even finished talking she cut me off and started condescendingly explaining Exercise 101 to me. Because there’s no way a fat person could know that stuff,” read another post.

    Some doctors chimed in to express their dismay at the hashtag. But others said that they welcomed the feedback. “This only highlights the type of physician I do not want to be,” wrote one med student. “I’m happy you’re sharing your story and I hope it helps others.”

    The vulgar phrase may be off-putting to some—and of course many doctors are compassionate people who work hard to provide lifesaving care—but the word “dickhead” viscerally expresses harmful legacies of the traditionally white, male medical establishment.

    The Twitter complaints barely scratch the surface of present and past systemic harms of prejudiced medical practice. Black Americans, for example, are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans. Doctors take women’s pain less seriously than men’s. Black people have also been subject to a horrific history of medical experimentation—as one researcher puts it, the infamous Tuskegee experiment was “relatively mild compared to other stuff.”

    For all the good doctors undoubtedly do, their profession has not come close to grappling with the trauma it continues to inflict.

    Photo: Dr. House via fanpop.

    • Sarah is the co-founder and former deputy editor of Filter.

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