When A 'Foot Doctor' Teaches A Lesson In Humility

By John H. McCord, DPM

I used to be humble about podiatry in the company of MDs and DOs. It seemed a necessary part of survival in the medical community. However, this humility has dissolved in recent years. When it comes to medical and surgical care of feet and ankles, we are the best at what we do. There is no need to kiss up to any non-podiatric physicians. I recently attended a medical staff and hospital board leadership conference. I have just finished a two-year term as Chief of Surgery and will assume the job of Board Chairman for our hospital next year. The conference was attended by physicians and leaders of the governing boards for hospitals that ranged from having 11 beds to over 500 beds. A breakfast discussion group was scheduled for physicians. My administrator asked that I attend. I did not look forward to spending an hour with a bunch of whiny docs but went anyway. I sat at a round table with five other physicians. Some of them were in their 40s, a couple were over the age of 55 and one guy had just turned 80. A doctor in his early 60s who was sitting next to me leaned over and squinted at my nametag. “What does DPM stand for?” he inquired with kind of a sneer. “I am a podiatrist. DPM stands for …” He cut me off with “Gee whiz! A foot doctor.” He emphasized the word “foot.” Then he looked around the table to see if any of his colleagues thought his comment was funny. None apparently did. I asked what his specialty was. “I am an OB-GYN,” he answered smugly. I could not resist. “Gee whiz! A crotch doctor.” The rest of the doctors around the table snickered and coughed. It turned out that the six doctors at our table were the only physicians who wanted to attend. There was no leader so we began an informal discussion of problems we saw in medicine. As always, whenever two or three doctors congregate, the topic of malpractice premiums is trotted out. Everybody took turns telling a personal malpractice horror story. The OB-GYN sitting next to me had recently been sued because the baby he had delivered was “fussy.” The case was thrown out. Each doctor told his story and when it became my turn, I simply replied, “I have never been sued.” This puzzled the rest of the group especially since I had just demonstrated how obnoxious I can be. The talk turned to outrageous malpractice premiums. The OB-GYN was paying over $100,000. Most of the rest ranged from $30,000 to $70,000. I admitted that my premium this year is about $9,000 after the claim-free discount and the 10 percent discount for attending a loss prevention course. I tried to seem humble as I explained my situation. The OB-GYN was starting to look a little sick. As always, the topic of reimbursement followed the discussion of malpractice. A discussion question circulated the table. “Where do you see your practice in five years with the current reimbursement dilemma?” The OB-GYN speculated that he would be working for his hospital as it had offered to “assume” his practice. The rest of the docs had similar predictions. The mood was getting low. I was enjoying the hell out of the meeting but trying not to show it. The question came to me. “In five years, I will be looking at my practice through the rearview mirror. I plan to retire in about two and a half years.” This did not lighten the mood of the OB-GYN who sat up straight and stared at me. “How old are you?” he growled. “I just turned 59,” I answered. “How did you build a retirement fund like that?” He looked like he was about to have a panic attack. “I started practice at a younger age than most of you and the money I saved on lower malpractice premiums went into my retirement fund,” I said. “It just sort of happened.” I added the “just sort of happened” in a humble, “aw shucks” type of voice. The hour was almost over and we were summoned into the general meeting. I was the first to get up and leave the miserable looking group of “real doctors.” I resolved to keep them in my prayers, especially the crot … ah, I mean, OB-GYN doctor. I suppressed a small smile as I left the room. Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate of the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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