Beware of those who claim they know it all

Beware of people who say they have all the answers, says Dr John Smith
Beware of people who say they have all the answers, says Dr John Smith
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“Never get a book out in front of a patient.”

I can still remember it. I was a young doctor, not long qualified, having a coffee with a much older and respected colleague after a difficult forceps delivery in the obstetrics unit, when he said the above line.

“They will lose confidence, they need to know that you have the answers, that you know it all.”

For a time I followed his advice, the books in my consulting room remained unopened, at least in the presence of my patients.

I tried to ooze confidence even when I had none.

Fortunately, doubts soon set in. I did not know everything, how could I know everything?

Perhaps my patients would like to see me looking things up, saying I needed to discuss their problem with colleagues, even have time to think about things.

Perhaps my patients would even like to hear me say, “I don’t know, but I know someone who does”.

And surprise, surprise, they did. I no longer had to give the air of a know-all, of being all powerful with all the answers.

What was important to them, was knowing that I knew where to find the answers.

Where does this leave us today? Do not assume that a doctor knows everything.

Beware of the quick and easy answer, the vague reassurance. Nowadays that is not enough.

And it doesn’t just apply to doctors. Lawyers, accountants, car mechanics, the computer expert.

None of them have all the answers. Trust them if they trust us enough to say, “Sorry, I don’t know but I know someone who does.”