Last week Allison and I went to Toronto for a day so she could see a specialist about the jaw problems she's had these past couple of years. The appointment went well: the doctor suggested a wait-and-see approach, and booked us for a follow-up appointment with the oral surgeon at the same clinic eight months from now.
Allison saw a resident first; he was very pleasant and took her medical history and did a brief exam. He was being shadowed by a first-year dental student, who basically just stood in the corner and watched. Then they went off to consult with the senior dentist, whom we were booked to see.
While we waited, I watched the activity in the hallway. It was a busy clinic. Another senior dentist was working across the hall. I could tell he was one of the head guys because he said (loudly) to his patient, "I guess it's OK if we use this room; my name is on the door." His patient, whose first language wasn't English, was inquiring about the fit of her dental plate, and he was contradicting her opinions in a way that seemed brusque and dismissive.
The resident and student soon came back with the doctor we were seeing. He was older than the doctor across the hall and was very nice and friendly. Allison clearly warmed to him, saying more to him in two minutes than she'd said to the resident in twenty.
Then the guy from across the hall stuck his head in and asked if he could "borrow" the resident for a few minutes. The dental student moved toward the door to go too, and the doctor laughed loudly and said, "No thanks, I don't need your incompetence!" Still laughing, he said with even more sarcasm, "Right, this is a problem that can only be solved by a first-year dental student!"
The student laughed, too, but his face turned red and he was obviously embarrassed. Of course he hadn't been offering to come to provide expertise; most likely he just thought he should follow along and learn. He probably wasn't sure exactly what was expected of him and was all too aware of his lack of knowledge. And it wasn't like he'd made some rookie mistake or technical gaffe that earned him a scolding.
There's a saying attributed to Plato: "The measure of a man is what he does with power." My exposure to this doctor was limited, I know; but if how he treated the student was a representative sample of what he does with power, then I don't think he measures up. He had a high status in the clinic, yet he felt the need to make fun of someone who was already at the bottom of the hierarchy, and for no real reason. It was a little unnerving, actually, that this was such an instantaneous response, and that he seemed to get so much enjoyment from it.
It's nice to have prestige and skill in our field, but without a bit of consideration for those who don't (yet) have those things, they can be pretty hollow. I hope the student benefits from the experience, though -- that when he's an acclaimed doctor he'll treat awkward newbies with respect rather than unnecessary putdowns.