Have you ever been treated by a doctor who refuses to listen to anything you say and insists their diagnosis is correct, even though they haven’t performed the necessary tests? It’s not a pleasant feeling.
While it would be nice to think that every healthcare provider is committed to healing and caring for their patients, the reality is that some are driven by self-centeredness and a sense of superiority.
The medical profession has its fair share of narcissists whose behavior and belief in their supremacy and indestructibility can negatively impact patient care.
In this article, I want to discuss how to identify a narcissistic doctor and the potential impact their psychological condition may have on patients.
Understanding this issue empowers patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare and advocate for the treatment they deserve.
6 Signs of a Narcissistic Doctor
Some certain behaviors and tendencies make doctors with narcissistic personality disorder stand out from the crowd.
Patients often look up to narcissistic doctors because they’re so confident about their abilities, inflate their achievements, and undermine other doctors by derogatory comments about them.
Unfortunately, admiring a narcissistic doctor could be detrimental to your health because they’ll never care as much about your recovery as they do their status and image.
That’s why it’s critical you know how to spot a narcissistic doctor, which you can do easily by looking out for the following signs:
#1 Extreme Self-Importance
A narcissistic doctor will consistently exaggerate their accomplishments, abilities, and medical experts. They may claim to be the best in their field and display an air of superiority that makes those around them feel less important.
For example, a narcissistic doctor might constantly interrupt their patient with statements like, “I’ve seen hundreds of cases like yours, and they always turn out to be nothing to worry about,” or dismiss your concerns with a flippant comment like, “You’re lucky to have me as your doctor; I’m known for my exceptional diagnostic skills.”
Throughout the consultation, the narcissistic doctor will consistently disregard the patient’s questions or attempt to express their feelings and redirect the conversation back to their own accomplishments.
The selfish need for admiration and validation causes the doctor to downplay the patient’s concerns and focus on promoting their superiority rather than providing empathetic and attentive care.
#2 Need for Admiration
Narcissistic doctors crave constant praise and admiration from their colleagues and patients.
They constantly need people to validate their skills and knowledge and will take every opportunity to share stories of their extraordinary surgical outcomes or innovative techniques.
A narcissistic doctor will expect their colleagues to toe the line and follow their instructions without question. They will often dismiss anyone who offers a different opinion or challenges their decisions, even if it’s their patient.
The need to impress may become so intense that the narcissistic doctor purposefully complicates a surgical procedure simply so they can showcase their surgical skills, unnecessarily putting the patient at risk.
#3 Lack of Empathy
Empathy is crucial in healthcare, but a narcissistic doctor may show little concern for patients’ emotions, dismiss their concerns or appear indifferent to their suffering.
For instance, narcissistic doctors may dismiss their patients’ concerns, saying, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve performed countless surgeries like yours and always get the best results.”
If the patient continues to voice concerns about the procedure or recovery, the narcissistic doctor will become increasingly impatient, telling the patient, “Let’s not dwell on emotions. I’m here to monitor your heart condition, so let’s stick to that for now. If you follow my instructions and take your medication, you have nothing to worry about.”
A narcissistic doctor tends to be dismissive, interrupting the patient and deflecting attention away from them and onto his medical expertise.
#4 Exploitative Behavior
Narcissistic doctors tend to exploit their position for personal gain, whether financial or emotional.
For example, a narcissistic doctor treating a patient with heart disease may dismiss the patient’s concerns that the condition is worsening. They would rather focus on a more challenging case that will earn them more admiration and regard.
They might dismiss the patient’s concerns and refuse to run routine tests because they’ve been managing the condition effectively for years.
If the patient persists, they may become aggressive, saying, “I’m the expert here. I know what’s best for you. Tests are expensive and unnecessary in your case. Trust me; your symptoms will subside with the medication I’m prescribing.”
They may even accuse the patient of being overly dramatic, saying, “I’ve treated hundreds of patients with heart conditions, and they all trust my judgment. You should too.”
In this instance, the narcissistic doctor is endangering their patient’s life by using exploitative behavior and refusing to conduct the necessary tests.
Instead of focusing on the patient’s distress and worsening symptoms, they use their position of authority to manipulate the patient into accepting their diagnosis and treatment plan without question.
#5 Lack of Accountability
Narcissistic doctors may deflect responsibility for medical errors, blaming others, including the patient.
For instance, a patient is experiencing pain and discomfort following a surgical procedure and is seeking reassurance and clarity.
Rather than providing that, the narcissistic doctor responds defensively, saying, “I’m a highly skilled surgeon, and my success rate speaks for itself. It’s not my responsibility if your body doesn’t react well to the procedure. You must have some underlying health condition you failed to tell us about.”
Despite the patient’s continued distress and attempts to seek accountability, the narcissistic doctor consistently deflects blame and avoids taking responsibility for the complications experienced after the surgery.
Rather than addressing the patient’s concerns, they prioritize their reputation and ego, leaving them feeling unheard and disregarded.
#6 Failure to Listen
They may dominate conversations, interrupt patients, and appear more interested in discussing themselves than understanding patients’ needs.
For instance, a patient complains of recurring headaches and dizziness, which are severe enough to impact their daily life. The narcissistic doctor dismisses their concerns, saying, “It’s probably just stress or lack of sleep. Take some painkillers, and you’ll be fine.”
When the patient asks if there are any tests they could do to get to the bottom of the problem, the doctor refuses to reconsider their initial diagnosis, saying, “Tests are unnecessary at this point. I’ve been practicing medicine for years, and I can tell you it’s nothing serious. Trust me; I know what I’m doing.”
Here, the narcissistic doctor consistently interrupts and dismisses the patient’s concerns without giving them a chance to express their symptoms fully.
Their selfish behavior is evident as they prioritize their assumptions and experiences over actively listening to the patient’s worries.
Such behavior could lead to delayed diagnosis or treatment, putting the patient in potential danger.
How Prevalent is Narcissism in the Medical Profession?
Narcissism is less prevalent in the medical profession than expected, with studies showing that healthcare professionals score lower on narcissism than the general population.
A study conducted in the UK in 2015 found that “Within the cohort of medical professionals, surgeons expressed significantly higher levels of narcissism” and that out of the surgical specialties represented in the study, “vascular surgery showed the highest mean score for narcissism.”
This is understandable, given that they’re working in a specialty that requires them to make challenging decisions with confidence and a fundamental belief in their abilities.
The study states, “This is particularly true of vascular surgery, where a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is enough to rupture a hole in most people’s underwear.”
Within the nursing profession, the incidence of narcissism is very low, as it is in critical care, cardiology, and geriatrics, where the potential for high status is limited.
How to Deal with a Narcissistic Doctor?
Should you come across a narcissistic doctor, you need to be prepared to deal with the situation proactively.
Remember, as a patient, you have a right to the best possible care, which means having a doctor who listens to you, empathizes with your condition, and prioritizes your needs.
Failing to do this could expose you to negligent or neglectful behavior, misdiagnosis, and substandard treatment.
Trust your Instincts
If you feel uncomfortable or uneasy with your doctor’s behavior, take those feelings seriously.
Trust your instincts and address your concerns. It might be useful to note how the doctor’s behavior unsettles you or why you feel their conduct may compromise your treatment.
Seek a Second Opinion
If you have doubts about your doctor’s diagnosis or treatment plan, consider seeking a second opinion from another medical professional.
A different perspective might be all it takes to give you the clarity and peace of mind you seek.
Document your Experiences
Record all your consultations and interactions with the doctor, including any behaviors that concern or upset you, such as dismissive attitudes or boundary violations.
Specific examples can be helpful if you decide to take the issue up with higher authorities.
Advocate for Yourself
Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for your healthcare needs. If your concerns are not being taken seriously, express your feelings and preferences clearly.
Discuss your Concerns with the Doctor
If you feel comfortable, express your concerns directly to the doctor. Be assertive but respectful in communicating how their behavior affects your care and well-being.
If you lack the confidence to address your concerns directly with the doctor, consider involving a patient advocate or ombudsman who can support and guide you.
Talk to friends, family, or support groups about your experiences. A supportive network can provide emotional validation and help you navigate difficult situations.
Report Ethical Violations
If you believe the doctor’s behavior is unethical or harmful, consider reporting your concerns to relevant medical authorities or the institution where the doctor practices.
Change Doctors if Necessary
If your concerns are not adequately addressed, consider finding a new doctor who makes you feel comfortable and respected.
Not all doctors who exhibit certain traits are narcissists, and making such judgments can be challenging.
However, if you consistently feel unheard, invalidated, or mistreated by your doctor, protecting your health and finding the best possible care is crucial.
What Impact does a Narcissistic Doctor have on Patient Care?
I touched on some consequences of being treated by a narcissistic doctor earlier.
Still, I’d like to expand on those concepts and highlight a few other potential concerns about how a narcissistic doctor could impact your treatment and level of care.
Lack of Empathy
One of the most discomforting aspects of being treated by a narcissistic doctor is their refusal to address your concerns.
Their lack of empathy means the narcissistic doctor fails to deliver care that considers all the patient’s emotional, cognitive, and biological needs.
According to a study of empathy in general practice, “A doctor’s ability to establish an empathic understanding of their patient’s situation is essential to developing a therapeutic relationship.
This relationship is vitally important to practicing medicine effectively.”
In other words, a narcissistic doctor who lacks empathy also fails to practice medicine effectively.
A narcissistic doctor who only cares about improving their status, public image, and career path may complicate a patient’s treatment simply so they can show off their abilities.
For example, they may recommend a more complicated surgical procedure than is necessary simply because they want to impress others by showing off their surgical expertise.
Refusal to Back Down
Once a narcissistic doctor has given a diagnosis, they will often resist any other suggestions or alternative theories.
They may even refuse to conduct tests because they’re so certain of their diagnosis and feel no further evidence is required.
This could lead to them misdiagnosing or overlooking a more complicated health concern, potentially endangering the patient’s life.
Due to their grandiose sense of self-importance and an overwhelming desire to be seen as superior, narcissistic doctors may resort to intimidating or bullying tactics to ensure that their diagnosis is unquestionably accepted by their peers, even when there are doubts about its accuracy.
This behavior can have severe consequences, as it may prevent a thorough examination of the patient’s case and lead to a potentially incorrect or incomplete diagnosis.
Can Narcissism Affect a Doctor’s Decision-Making Process?
While narcissism may not influence every decision a narcissistic doctor makes, their desire for status, admiration, and power can negatively impact decision-making.
Research shows that doctors demonstrating high levels of narcissism are more likely to be influenced by potential financial gain.
For instance, when enrolling patients in a clinical trial, they may be motivated by money and status rather than their needs.
Evidence suggests that health practitioners suffering from narcissism may be less receptive to new information, especially if it contradicts their initial opinions or diagnosis.
They are so determined to be right that they refuse to consider new insights or research, meaning they deliver sub-standard care to the patient.
In an article about narcissistic personality disorder in medicine in Australia, author Leanne Rowe notes that “The quality of patient care may be at risk, particularly if the doctor is impulsive, [or] overconfident about their capabilities.”
What are the Potential Risks of Being Treated by a Narcissistic Doctor?
If a narcissistic doctor is treating you, the chances are your needs are not their top priority, which means you won’t get the standard of care you deserve.
A narcissistic doctor might reduce a patient to a mere narcissistic supply, manipulating them to fulfill the doctor’s insatiable need for admiration.
Under such conditions, the patient may be exposed to dehumanizing behavior, such as demeaning their concerns through a type of medical gaslighting or stonewalling their patients altogether.
They may even go as far as to brand the patient as a hypochondriac simply because they were seeking clarity about their condition and subsequent treatment protocol.
Similarly, they may refuse to take responsibility for a misdiagnosis and even shift the blame onto the patient, saying it’s their fault the treatment isn’t working as well as expected.
Doctors with narcissistic personality disorder are also more likely to seek financial gain by recommending unnecessary services or exaggerating the treatment required.
This could even cause a healthy individual to believe they have contracted an illness they don’t have.
A narcissistic health provider can cause considerable harm to a patient, by dismissing their concerns, refusing to revisit a diagnosis or treatment recommendation, placing financial gain over the patient’s needs, or even, according to therapist Rev. Sheri Heller, “inflicting physical and mental damage in response to a patient’s effort to report grievances.”
How can Patients Protect their Rights when Dealing with a Narcissistic Doctor?
A narcissistic healthcare provider may behave in such a way as to violate the patient’s rights.
For instance, they might fail to provide quality care, isolate or abandon the patient, or treat the patient with dignity or respect.
In the US, these rights are protected by law, which means you could be able to sue or at least get legal advice on the situation.
You may not want to escalate the situation to this level, in which case, you should consider either seeking a second opinion or involving a patient advocate who can advise you on how best to proceed.
You may also want to report any ethical violations that have occurred either to the institute where you’re being treated or to the relevant medical authority.