Here’s the link for people who want to support me on Patreon:
More experienced doctors are more likely to kill you. This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I think that an understandable notion in our culture is that more seasoned doctors are better at treating patients due to their experience. They have superior treatments, and know far more about different diseases and symptoms.
However, I recently learned that the likely truth is basically the opposite of what we expect. I’m not a medical expert, I don’t play one on the internet, and I haven’t exhaustively researched this topic. But I listened to a Freakonomics podcast in which several doctors were interviewed, who explained the situation. Freakonomics is a podcast that is based on the books by an economist named Steven Levitt and a journalist named Stephen Dubner. They examine common and uncommon social issues from an economic perspective, and often come to unexpected conclusions. On their podcast, they interview experts with multiple opinions in a wide variety of fields.
In the episode that I’m thinking about, Dubner talked to doctors with different opinions about how experience impacts how well patients are treated. Contrary to popular belief, even some of the more seasoned doctors admitted that they are more likely to make mistakes. But how can this be possible?
It seems like we tend to believe that there’s a correlation between grey hair and better medical expertise. However, the opposite is apparently more likely. Why is this? Well, one of the main reasons is that medical information is endlessly being researched and updated. It’s hard for anyone, including people with a better ability to interpret studies and data, to keep up with the latest findings. There’s so much change that by the time a doctor finishes medical school, what they learned is probably out of date. Biology, pharmacology, and every other related field are phenomenally complex. So when new results are found, it has countless downstream effects, including new questions and altered knowledge. There are often new tools added to a doctor’s medical tool box.
It’s not a requirement for doctors to continuously read papers and learn. Also, a lot of them have extremely hectic schedules. They tend to have a large amount of patients and need to keep up with all of their information. Finding the right treatment sometimes takes time. If you have multiple patients, this all can create a huge snowball effect. This can be even more of a problem if you’re a doctor at a hospital or emergency room, and it can suck away all of your time. I can imagine how difficult it would be just to maintain regular functionality, let alone extra research on the side.
New doctors tend to be more up to date on recent information because they’ve just completed medical school. So they often understand more of the newest knowledge. They’re less likely to have immersed themselves in treating patients so much that they have no time for research. If you’re a doctor, you almost have two jobs if you want to be diligent about this.
Another factor is that experience with successfully treating patients can give you greater confidence in your abilities. Specific drugs and other tools have worked well in the past, so you might see no reason to update your information and find better solutions. That’s logical, but this type of thinking can lead to arrogance. This is dangerous in doctors, even though that fits the stereotype. It can lead to more people needlessly suffering and dying. Ego stroking can be insidious because the general public seems to assume that older doctors know that they’re talking about. People appear to believe that doctors understand medical issues. But this assumption probably applies more to those with greater experience. We’re less likely to question men and women who look and sound like they’ve seen and treated every medical issue.
Arrogance is of course not exclusive to older doctors. But younger ones are less likely to have confidence in their abilities because they have treated less patients. They probably have more up to date knowledge, but they have applied it to people far less than doctors with more experience. This can help younger doctors question their assumptions more, which is a great idea for everyone. They’re more likely to spend extra time and effort finding the right treatments for their patients, and they could be more open-minded. Less experienced doctors probably want to earn the respect that older doctors get from having grey hair. All humans stereotype, and this one about experienced doctors is incorrect. Younger ones are less likely to have had this better mindset beaten out of them by the time requirements of all of their patients.
More experienced doctors are more likely to kill you. However, that isn’t my main takeaway from what I’ve learned about this. It doesn’t mean that if you meet a seasoned veteran doctor, you should flee the room in a screaming panic, terrified for your life. Most doctors aren’t looking to kill people. They probably get into this profession because they want to help us and save lives.
A younger doctor won’t inherently give you better treatment. We shouldn’t just put young and old doctors into radically different categories. There are always exceptions to generalizations. More experienced doctors likely have the same altruistic intentions as younger ones.
For me, the main lesson is this: Doctors should try as hard as they can to keep up to date with the newest information. Maybe we should be more inquisitve with them regardless of their age and experience. That way, we can stay away from those who are set in their ways. We can get treated by those who continuously update their knowledge and methods instead. The more that we do this, the better chances we’ll have of avoiding unnecessary sickness and even death. It can help us all have longer, healthier lives.