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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Turning Off Doctor Mode

Early in my marriage my wife pointed out something I hadn't realized at the time.  When I'm talking about work-related issues I have a "doctor voice".  There are distinct volume, tonal, and speech pattern changes that I have unconsciously developed and which I only use when speaking as a veterinarian.  A psychologist could probably give more insight, but I believe that it's a way of speaking that blends compassion, authority, knowledge, and ease of description.  Since she made me aware of it, I'm usually able to tell when I slip into "doctor mode".

The strange thing is that I do it involuntarily.  When I speak to friends and relatives about their pets, I automatically tend to use this voice, often not realizing it.  There's just something that comes over me and it's like slipping on a comfortable jacket when it's cold.  My wife often finds it amusing and isn't afraid to let me know when I'm doing it.  But I don't want to do it all of the time.  Like today.

Today I brought my brother-in-law's guinea pig into the clinic with me because he wasn't eating and I couldn't see anything obvious at home.  A quick oral exam showed normal teeth, but a foul-odored liquid in the mouth that smelled like pus.  He also had sores on his tongue.  I realized quickly that we were dealing with a hidden abscess, kidney disease, or something else equally as serious.  My brother-in-law is currently out of work and his wife is in beauty school, so they really don't have money.  I was willing to do a few things for free, but couldn't do a lot of medications for free.  So to prevent his suffering, we euthanized him.

Now this is someone I've known for 13 years and have lived in the same town with him for the last 4-5 years.  We're not best friends, but we know each other well.  I also know how his family feels about this pet, especially considering that they have four children.  When I called him to tell him what I found, I realized that I had slipped into "doctor mode" and was talking to him like I would talk to any other client.  I had to work hard to change my voice and pattern into something more familiar and friendly like I normally talk to him.  Honestly I don't think he noticed, but I certainly did and I didn't want to sound that way to him.

It can be strange how your professional life and attitude infiltrates your personality and can cause a change in your behavior without you realizing it.  I often say that being a vet is what I do, not who I am.  But maybe I'm a little in denial and at least in part it has become who I am.


  1. I too have a "doctor voice". My husband pointed it out to me when he'd overhear my phone conversations with clients back in vet school. I know I still do it. Something about my "doctor voice" makes me feel more confident, knowledgeable and authoritative. My voice tends to be slightly lower, I speak slower and I definitely use less slang. To me, that's just being professional. It is hard to turn it off when talking to friend-clients about their pets though. :)

  2. I expect we all do it - part of being "professional". My own theory is that when I am specifically asked something that requires vet knowledge, and a professional answer, I have to access part of my brain and think about it - aware that what I say is going to be remembered, used and held against me if I stuff up. As part of this process, I will slip into the role and voice automatically... become more serious... I guess if we didn't do this, we might be seen as flippant?

    I do relate to the need to keep it more friendly in personal situations - good on you for working to do that... Perhaps our air of authority can be taken too far and working on a more personal touch would help client relationships for some vets.

    The area I had to watch out for was assigning "orders" to my family.... after a day instructing my vet nurses on what I wanted done, always nicely, but with an expectation it would be done, I found it didn't go down so well with the family .... which is probably why I still do the housework at home, not them.

  3. Not only do I have a "doctor voice", my boyfriend can do a dead-accurate impression of me in "doctor mode".


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