Decorum and Poise

At least twice or thrice every year, when I was in school, the law college hostel became a hot spot.

Riots broke out. Buses were hijacked, even burned. Shop windows were shattered by rocks and soda bottles. Storefronts shuttered as violence erupted.

For a while, we lived near one of the city’s most infamous arts college.

From our balcony, I watched groups of boisterous students take over buses. Evict all passengers. Instruct the driver to park by the roadside. And then clamber on to the roof and dance – while colleagues sounded a chorus on the bus horn!

Any attempt by authorities to thwart their fun could become an excuse for a flash strike… and all traffic came to a standstill on the busy arterial highway.

Medical college students weren’t permitted such ‘self expression’.

Not by any law or rule – but by something more powerful.

By an unwritten code and convention.

And by the dignity of our profession.

Because we are… doctors.

Right from the moment you step across the portal of a medical college, you begin subtly imbibing into your system the realization that you’re a part of a unique group.

A rare subset of people who deal with esoteric and wonderful things.

Like people’s health and well-being.

Like society’s wellness and vibrancy.

Like making life and death decisions – literally every day.

You also realize quickly that you’re now expected to conform to a higher standard than most others.

Just like generations of other doctors did before you.

Even strikes or protests were dignified and decent. Hooliganism was strongly condemned. Political discourse on college campus was lukewarm and polite.

It was good preparation for a career in which your adherence to decorum and dignity, and your maintenance of poise and polish, are so critical to the proper performance of your duty.

This doesn’t mean that you’re weak and spineless.

Quite the contrary.

It’s meant to display strength through calmness. And convey this sense of power to others… by how you behave.

It also has an enormous impact on treating patients.

Just think about it.

If you went to the doctor with a serious health problem, and find him agitated, excited and in a panic after examining you… how would you feel, as a patient?

On the other hand, how would a calm, composed professional, who explains your situation and outlines a plan of action in a soothing voice, make you feel?

To stay calm in the middle of a crisis, to control your tone and emotions, to convey a sense of confidence and authority – isn’t really easy.

Especially when you’re aware of the danger or seriousness of a situation.

And yet, patients deserve your reassurance.

Even a dying patient rarely wants to hear that her case is hopeless, that nothing can be done.

They look up to you.

Their families turn to you.

And that’s why you should be able to always project a calm, composed, confident exterior.

Such poise and confidence doesn’t come by accident.

It’s the result of long, intentional practice.

Medical doctors get started early. Even while in training.

Because fairly or not, society holds doctors to a higher standard.

And we’ve got to prove… that we’re able to live up to it.

Since we live in a meme culture, maybe this will resonate:

Stay calm – and save lives!


Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author - http://www.DrSivasubramanian.com

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