I sometimes swear while talking to patients. It’s not the sole part of the conversation, and I certainly never swear at them. But I do swear on occasion.
When I was a kid, my dad told me swearing was for grown-ups, when talking about grown-up things. Well, I’m a grown-up now, and if "grown-up things" don’t include serious health problems, I don’t know what does.
A lot of people may see this as unprofessional, rude, or insensitive. I disagree. There are times when strong language is the only way of getting a point across. I generally have a good gauge of patient personality, and I am careful with what I say in front of certain people.
Language is one of our most useful tools as a species. I submit that swearing, like many other things, is part of the art of medicine. Knowing how to use it properly (and how not to) is a critical skill. Using it properly can be a central part of communicating properly with certain patients. Using it too much, or inappropriately, is obviously detrimental and unprofessional.
It may take a four-letter word to make yourself clear, or to help others understand what you’re trying to say. Some people don’t pay attention until certain words make them.
This is not something anyone will ever teach you in residency, and it would likely get you in trouble at most academic centers, but in the trenches of private practice neurology, sometimes the best way to talk to patients is to be an ordinary person, not a doctor.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology private practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. E-mail him at email@example.com.