Sometime in like 1986’ish Peter Bergman did this Vicks 44 cough syrup commercial and according to Wikipedia he was made to say “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” so people would not think he was a real doctor. This little phrase has become the stuff of legends. Embedded in the fabric of our pop culture. Sort of the go to phrase when your drunk buddy has an epic fail and ends his fall with a no handed face plant. As his nose bleeds profusely, you chime in “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” and that was @&^%!*@ funny. Just the thing to say to a room full of ladies in your most debonair voice with your left eyebrow raised just slightly. At the minimum, you could get a few good laughs. I mean its freaking hilarious; the thought of this soap opera actor stating outright that he is not a doctor  and then telling us how good Vicks 44 cough syrup is. Hil-lar-ious!

You know what’s not so hilarious?

The fact that you will be explaining to your patients outright that you are not a doctor, then telling them how good Vicks 44 cough syrup is!

Don’t forget to take the “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” poll.

Get used to it; “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Practice it in the mirror. Become comfortable with it, because at times you are going to feel like “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” When patients insist on calling you doctor, even though you have told them over and over that you are the Physician Assistant; you might think “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Do not let this cancer creep into your psyche, hold your chin up. You are a Physician Assistant.

I don’t make many promises, but I will flat out promise you that during your career as a Physician Assistant you WILL be called “doctor”. This happens to me at least once a day at my clinic. I cannot tell you how many times I have corrected patients regarding my title. It’s easy to see how this could happen. You come into the exam room wearing your pressed white lab coat, you have a stethoscope draped around your neck, you have the chart in your hand, you have a name tag that says Physician Assistant (oh, by the way. Patients can’t read), and you introduce yourself as Physician Assistant Joe Blow (oh, by the way. Patients can’t hear either.) So the first thing out of your patient’s mouth is “Please to meet you doctor.” Oh, the best is when it happens at the end of the visit. You are walking out of the exam room, patient right behind you. You are relaying some final instructions to the patient. You turn around, hands reach out toward one another to shake and end the visit. Your supervising physician is walking behind you, leading her patient to the reception as well. The patient smiles at you, you smile at the supervising physician (so proud of the job you did), supervising physician smiles because patient is smiling; and just as your hands clasp, the patient says “Thank you doctor.” It feels like your patient yelled it at the top of their lungs. Your supervising physician kind of shivers a little and the smile sort of breaks, just for a moment, then it returns as quick as it left (doctors are good at holding back emotions after all.)

Of course you immediately correct the patient, but it’s not hard to understand how some Physician Assistants can start to feel like Peter Bergman. Constantly reminding people, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” It can become very tiresome explaining to patients all the time, that you are not the doctor. When you first get out of school and start working as a Physician Assistant you will correct patients quickly, “I am actually a Physician Assistant not a doctor.” (chest out, fists banging chest). As the years wear on you become complacent, barely acknowledging that the patient called you a doctor. Ignoring these patients without correcting them on your appropriate title is one of the worst things you could possibly do.

Why is this the worst thing I could possibly do?

OK, since you asked. I’ll give you two really good reasons.

Number one: Because you are not the doctor! This exact thing is at the top of the heap for reasons MDs/DOs don’t like Physician Assistants. They are under the impression that we like to go around pretending to be doctors. If you do not aggressively make sure your patients understand that you are a Physician Assistant you are directly responsible for perpetuating this argument. So the next time you see Dr. So-and-so’s blog crying about Physician Assistants acting like doctors, think twice before you comment. Ask yourself, “Do I correct the patients that call me doctor?” If you don’t, then slowly peel your finger off of the enter key and repeat after me “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Don’t be a faker, it just pisses people off and makes you look really bad in the end.

Number two: Did you know that if you fail to properly introduce yourself to a patient as a Physician Assistant, that you can find yourself properly introducing yourself to the Medical Board. Yea, you heard me. You could get yourself hauled in front of the board for not properly stating who you are and what your title is. Believe it. I have a buddy who is going next month to meet with the Medical Board over this very thing. It’s a BS deal (he wears a name tag), but he still has to waste his time and money to show up and explain himself.

If those are not reasons enough, have a little pride in what you do. You worked hard to become a Physician Assistant.

(This blog got a little long on me so I am going to break it up into smaller segments. In the next section “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Part Deux, I am going to cover some ways that this whole situation could be avoided. Don’t forget to take the “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” poll.)

  1. trishx3 says:

    I have to say PAs do have a unique roll in the healthcare field, because they are able to do so many different things, specialize, whatever it is that fits them most. New patients are always going to think that they are seeing a Doctor because like you said they can’t read and don’t listen, but as long as you introduce yourself and do the best you can to let them know that you are a PA you are doing a heck of a job, because explaining it over and over can become annoying and time consuming but it’s worth it! The boards are NO JOKE! Not that I know personally, but I never want to find out!!

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