Physicians Anonymous

Mediocrity in medicine

The joy of mediocrity in medicine

In a world that constantly demands excellence, where the pursuit of perfection is the norm, there lies a secret joy hidden in the unlikeliest of places – the realm of mediocrity in medicine. Yes, you read that correctly; mediocrity can be a cause for celebration, especially when it comes to the noble profession of healing. So, grab your stethoscope, put on your slightly smudged white coat, and join me on this tongue-in-cheek journey through the joy of mediocrity in medicine.

Following on from my articles on the dangers of perfectionism and the perils of overachievement, here I share a valuable lesson. Being just good enough is ok. In fact, I now realise, it is ideal. So, aim for medical mediocrity and find so much more joy in a balanced life.

Trigger warning: this article discusses the possibility of not being the best at everything and may be triggering to some (myself included before my own rock bottom).

Do we need to be the head of department, have 200 publications, or evidence our financial success? What price are we paying to achieve these exceptional outcomes when mediocrity would be just as good. In fact better?

Overachievment and burnout

As physicians, our expectations of perfectionism and zero mistakes are a recipe for burnout. Do we need to be the head of department, have 200 publications, or evidence our financial success? Does our life need to be Insta-awesome, Pinterest-perfect, or Facebook fabulous? Do we need the European holidays twice a year, the big car, the mansion? 

Sure we have earned them, but I ask: what price are we paying to achieve these exceptional outcomes when mediocrity would be just as good? In fact, better.

Introducing Dr Smith

Picture this: Dr. Smith, a fine example of a mediocre physician, confidently strolls into the hospital. His handwriting is the stuff of legends, akin to hieroglyphics only decipherable by a select few. It’s said that even his prescriptions come with a side of Sudoku puzzles for pharmacists to solve.  

Mediocrity, in medicine, means embracing the ‘good enough’ mantra. And trust me, there’s beauty in this philosophy. Think about it – if every doctor aimed for perfection, we’d have a hospital full of Type-A personalities constantly bickering over the best way to deliver patient care. But Dr. Smith? He’s the champion of ‘winging it’ with flair. His secret weapon? The art of the shrug.

Patient: “Doctor, what’s wrong with me?”

Dr. Smith: *Shrugs* “Beats me. Was viral, probably now bacterial. So let’s try some antibiotics. If it doesn’t work, come back, and we’ll try something else.”

There’s something oddly comforting about this nonchalant approach. It’s as if Dr. Smith is saying, “Life is a gamble, and so is medicine. Let’s roll the dice and see what happens.” Who needs diagnostic certainty when you can have a medical adventure?

Do we need to be the head of department, have 200 publications, or evidence our financial success? What price are we paying to achieve these exceptional outcomes when mediocrity would be just as good. In fact better?

Bedside chill zone

Now, let’s talk about bedside manner. In the grand theater of patient care, the mediocre practitioner shines. Dr. Smith’s soothing, monotone voice is like a lullaby that could put anyone to sleep, especially his patients.

No frantic hand gestures, no dramatic pauses – just a calm, measured, and utterly unexciting delivery of medical information.

Patient: “Am I going to be okay, Doctor?”

Dr. Smith: “You’ll probably be fine. Most people are.”

See, the joy of mediocrity lies in its ability to lower expectations. Patients don’t leave Dr. Smith’s office with grandiose hopes of miraculous recoveries. Instead, they leave with a sense of, “Well, I guess I’ll survive this.”

Average medical knowledge

Of course, Dr. Smith isn’t entirely devoid of medical knowledge. He has a comprehensive understanding of the classic ‘doctor lingo.’ You know, the phrases that sound impressive but are essentially meaningless to the average patient. Things like, “We’ll need to perform a series of tests to rule out any underlying conditions” or “I recommend a holistic approach to your treatment plan.”

And then there’s the art of reading medical journals. Dr. Smith’s journal collection is something to behold. It’s not about actually reading them cover to cover; it’s about displaying them prominently in his office. Does he know the 97 causes of clubbing? Can he name those rare disorders that are only found in fine print? No, but he has the internet.

Those pristine, untouched journals send a powerful message: “I could be up to date with the latest research, but I choose not to be.” It’s a bold statement that exudes confidence in his mediocrity.

But let’s not forget about the all-important medical conferences. While some doctors attend these events to expand their knowledge and stay current, Dr. Smith views them as opportunities to network. His favorite part? The buffet. You’ll find him near the food table, coffee hot black and bitter, passionately discussing the intricacies of chicken cordon bleu with a fellow conference-goer while the latest breakthroughs in medicine are presented in the background.

But let's not forget about the all-important medical conferences. While some doctors attend these events to expand their knowledge and stay current, Dr. Smith views them as opportunities to network. His favorite part? The buffet.

The quiet joy of mediocrity

In the world of healthcare, we often emphasize the importance of making a difference, of being the best, of striving for perfection. But what about the quiet joy of mediocrity? 

Dr. Smith may not be the most brilliant physician, but he’s a pillar of stability in a world that can be overwhelming. He brings a touch of humility to a profession that sometimes veers into arrogance. Like most of us, he sits comfortably in the bulge of the Gaussian curve. Unlike most of us, he is okay with it. He has a life-work balance. He sees his kids and wife. He has hobbies and a life outside of medicine. 

He is satisfied and, crucially, he is in the minority of us who are NOT burned out.

Now, before you think that I’m advocating for subpar medical care — I’m not — let’s not forget the serious side of patient care. Medicine is a field where lives are at stake, and excellence should always be the goal. The joy of mediocrity is a whimsical take on the occasional charm of embracing our limitations, questioning whether every success at all personal cost is needed? Wherever you stand, the non-negotiable is that patients deserve the best care possible.

In reality, every healthcare provider strives for excellence, continually educates themselves, and works tirelessly to improve patient outcomes.

But, in the midst of this pursuit, there’s room for a little laughter, a little self-deprecation, and a nod to the fact that, as humans, we are all fallible.

Conclusion

So, here’s to Dr. Smith and all the other ‘mediocre’ practitioners out there. In their own unique way, they remind us that perfection isn’t always the answer, and sometimes, a good old shrug and a comforting word can be just what the doctor ordered.