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.