Have you ever wondered why so many plaques are hanging on physicians’ walls?  Enter a doctor’s private office, sit down, and you can’t miss them.  At least one wall is nearly hidden by an abundant collection of laminated hangings.  That a single individual has accumulated so much woodwork is striking.  Stranger still is the deliberate decision to put them on public display.  Upon closer inspection (since no doubt you’re being kept waiting) you notice that each proclaims individual accomplishment, whether academic achievement, clinical practice certification or a specialized skill or service citation.  Size offers few clues as to importance.  It is not readily apparent which are significant professionally, which honorific or those largely decorative.  But there’s no subtlety here:  the clear intention is to impress.

Why do doctors typically place their various credentials and awards on such prominent display?  Do clergymen do it?  Does your accountant or lawyer?  Do businessmen laminate impressive balance sheets from previous years?

Since you’re not likely to question your doctor’s choice of wall décor, let’s consider some possible explanations.  Even today it may be that doctors remember or have been reminded of bygone times when they were broadly mistrusted by the public, were considered largely ineffectual, attended medical schools of dubious reputation and were often regarded as charlatans.  Could this be an instance of an inherited inferiority complex?  Might mounting a display of credentials serve to reassure patients and allow them to distinguish between accomplished practitioners and dubious medicine men?  Exhibiting them may simply have become customary, doctors continuing the practice from one generation to the next.  They could not, moreover, be unmindful of the fact that doing this reinforced their authority, and served also to justify fees that might otherwise have appeared unduly inflated.

Patients often arrive at a doctor’s office feeling anxious and fearful.  What ails them they wonder?  How serious their symptoms?  Will the doctor be able to provide answers?  Trust and confidence is after all a critical component of the doctor-patient relationship.  Scanning the wall and sensing how well credentialed is their physician may just convince them that they’re in capable and experienced hands.

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