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Family photographs

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There are two types of doctor. Some will have pictures of their family on their desks at work, and some do not.

What is the purpose of having personal things in your surgery? There are a number of reasons. I like to have a picture of my children discreetly there for me to see. They are an important part of my life, and remind me that there is a world outside of my desk and my room.

However, I don’t have a picture of my wife there. Should she be offended, as this might imply that my children matter to me more than she does? In case she is reading this article (she usually doesn’t), that is not the case.

Do pictures of my family have an intrusive effect on my consultation with a patient? Is it pushing my middle-class, conventional, heterosexual morals into my consultations? Is it saying that I am affluent and successful in front of my patients who are sometimes not? I do worry that might be a barrier to engaging with my patients.

My argument is that they are a reflection of who I am, and when patients book in to see me they can expect a middle-aged white bloke who has a family to see them. But what of my patients who are poor, or uneducated, or childless, or gay? Will my rather traditional position be upsetting for them? I have never really considered this aspect, and maybe this could be seen as a subtle form of conventional oppression.

There are other things in my room. I have a framed copy of the Hippocratic oath. I bought that when I went to visit the Oracle at Delphi. Some of my colleagues might consider this as pretty cheesy, but the oath states what I am, and what I aspire to be.

I have a carved medicine mask on my wall which is a souvenir of a trip to Sri Lanka. It is one that signifies ‘dumbness’. I like it because it is hand-carved from wood, and it relates to my career and reminds me of a holiday that I enjoyed: it means nothing to other doctors or the patients. I like it, so there it sits. Is that an indulgence for me? Possibly.

What about those doctors who have their degrees and diplomas on their walls? I know of some who do this. It says to the patients that I am appropriately qualified, and an august institution thinks that I am worthy enough. I thought that I wouldn’t do that as it seemed a bit too hackneyed, an image that might be used for a cartoon doctor, maybe.

I suppose it might seem a bit boastful as well. Tucked in the corner of my room is a framed award that I received from the Royal College a few years ago. It might seem a little like showing off in front of my patients, although the certificate came in a frame, and where else should I put it?

That’s my room, and it represents me. Another colleague has no pictures in his room, arguing that the patients come to see him as a professional and a doctor, and it is a distraction for there to be pictures of his family on his desk. He is also a more private individual, and I respect him for that. That represents him.

The paraphernalia will remain in my room while I do. What you see is what you get.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Hazel Drury

    Speaking personally I too have pics of my kids up. I am of the opinion that having kids makes one more circumspect about life and shows to that first time Mum with a 4 week old with a cough that although you may have all the letters and qualifications, you too have done the sleepless nights / cleaning up vomit / pulling your hair out practical experience of parenthood and are thus more qualified than any diploma in child health can attest to :-)

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  • On the other hand, do we expect patients (and we are sometimes patients too) to see pictures of the children of other professionals as we come across them at their work? The police station, Waitrose, the airport terminal, the wards at the DGH all displaying pictures of the staffs' children to all and sundry? And do your children MIND their photos being looked at by all your patients? I would say private office space yes, display what you like. Public consulting space - no.

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  • Hazel and Teresa are both right right.
    My single handed GP trainer ,(God rest you Peter), in a deprived area was very clear on the matter for the community of practice of his day he told me to paraphrase ,:-
    it shows you are human , have a life and understand their issues;It also shows you are human not some robot to be called out without thought.

    This was when he worked a 1:1.
    He had moved the consultation site from his residence into a health centre, then moved to a modified dwelling as the health centre was "too impersonal".
    His medicine was a vocation a way of life,;his consutation room was his private space he happily shared with know patients, but not the "public".
    Today in our spotless souless scrupulosly clean "clinical areas" with strict working time limits and statutory breaks these objects are an anathema.
    But look how easily we have moved from "vocation" to " job" in one generation.
    Why as we are entreated to regard patients as "indivdual and unique" do we find Doctors are required to be faceless and generic?

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  • I have pictures of my children, they are there to get me through those days which are rubbish. To me they are invaluable. Horses for courses I guess.

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  • I have pictures of my children in my consulting room. I find that parents listen to me now whereas before they appeared to assume I knew nothing about small children. When I became a partner in 2000 our MMR uptake was woeful. When my daughter turned one in 2004 I had a queue of patients asking me if I had given her the MMR (I had) and then our uptake went up significantly. I didn't change my advice to them but somehow they perceived it differently. I am now thinking of attaching a post-it to their photo saying "Between us we are 17 years old and we have only had 3 courses of antibiotics between us in our lives".

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