29 Jan 2014

by Erin W. Gilbert, MD 

“Your job gives you authority. Your behavior gives you respect.”
Irwin Federman, general partner at U.S. Venture Partners

Throughout my surgical training I blindly accepted that having grey hair (and experience) equaled garnering respect as a surgeon. Now that I am junior faculty at an academic institution (and beginning to grey myself), I’m wondering if there is more to the story. There is a noticeable difference in how residents treat me as compared to how they treat the Department Chair- which is of course OK by me, but I have begun wondering how can I ensure that I will achieve and more importantly maintain the same level of respect?

As a medical student at LSU in New Orleans, we followed a very hierarchical system where the intern was the boss of the students, the junior was the boss of the intern and so on. It seemed to me in this system that the doctor’s role dictated the level of respect they earned from the team, but just because you follow someone’s orders does not mean you respect them. Other misconceptions I have had include believing respect comes from being a good dresser, having large muscles or simply being intimidating in some way. Now that I have matured a bit I am learning that people may admire good looks, muscles, or a power suit, but this does not translate into respect.

Federman’s quote alludes to the real heart of the story. Think about people in your life you respect; who you would follow into battle without question, who you try to emulate… they are kind, generous, caring, and fair. They treat all of those around them with respect – from the hospital CEO to housekeeping staff – without question and without needing a reason to show respect. They value others’ efforts and acknowledge them; they listen, and they are always sincere. I may just be figuring this out for myself now, but thanks to my upbringing, I know that treating all people with respect is the expectation not the exception- I just didn’t realize how much it could influence how others treat me.

Readers, think back to the role models in your life. What behaviors of theirs did you respect? Share with us in the comments below. 


Erin Gilbert is an Assistant Professor at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland where she is a member of the Knight Cancer Institute. She received her medical degree from LSU in New Orleans and completed her general surgery residency at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was fellowship trained in Minimally Invasive Surgery at OHSU and specializes in the surgical management of pancreatic disease.

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