Monday, July 23, 2012


I received something curious in the mail.  It appears to be a brochure for “America’s Top Physicians” offering a variety of plaques that can be ordered and engraved with your name, sponsored by the “Consumers’ Research Council of America”.  If this is a legitimate organization, someone please let me know.  I doubt it though.

It reminds me of mailings that I used to receive from a vanity press.  They lost track of me after I moved (or realized I would never give them money and dropped me from their list).  I forget their exact name now, but it was something very similar, like “America’s Top Poets”.  Their letters would claim I had been selected to submit my work to an “exclusive” anthology, which would give me the recognition that I “deserved”.  Their true agenda, as far as I could tell, was to induce people to buy the anthologies.  The quality of your work did not really matter, as long as you were willing to pay to see it in print.

Now I seem to be on the mailing list of the doctors’ equivalent of a vanity press.  I am offered the opportunity to buy “Honors of Distinction and Excellence”.  The options are quite amusing in their extravagance.  I could get one that looks like a fake magazine cover or one that resembles a diploma.  I can’t decide if my favorite is a huge crystal cup on a pedestal, a silver globe, or an engraved glass plaque standing between marble columns. 

I had a laugh at the pretentiousness of all this, and the shallow ploy to extort money from doctors.  It also gave me pause, though, to think how vulnerable we might be to this kind of vanity.  As doctors, we are used to being high-achievers and received academic awards throughout our education.  Once we get out in the world, that phase is over, for the most part.  In practice, there are no more mentors or supervisors looking over our shoulders and telling us when we are doing a good job.

On days when we are worn down by the less satisfying aspects of medicine, we may start to feel underappreciated.  Maybe a fancy award is just the thing to cheer us up.  But what does it mean?  If it’s not an honor that is earned, but a purchase that is marketed to us, what is the point? 

I will stick to the internal reward of knowing that my hard work is helping patients.  It may be less tangible than a “distinguished ebony piano wood plaque with a sculpted three-dimensional plate” that is “laser engraved with your personal information regarding your accomplishment”.  But it is much more valuable.

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