I ignited my fellow doctor's jealousy

By Kristen Fuller, MD | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published September 16, 2022

Key Takeaways

Without realizing it at the time, I ignited the flames of jealousy in a fellow doctor.

Back in the day, I once saw a “new-to-me” patient in my office for a routine prenatal examination. This was her first baby, and she (rightfully) had many questions. As I was going through the examination and her chart, I noticed she wasn’t new to the practice and had seen my coworker a few times.

When I asked about her previous visits with my coworker, she said it wasn’t a good fit, and she chose to see a new physician.

I thoroughly believe in the right patient-physician “fit,” and I‘ve seen many patients choose another doctor over me, so I didn’t think much of it. I continued to see the patient throughout her routine pregnancy.

After spotting this patient in the clinic hallway, my colleague approached me. She was enraged that I was treating her former patient, and the green-eyed monster of jealousy reared its head. Long story short, there were ugly false rumors, and a smear campaign spread around my practice about how I stole patients from other physicians.

I was sad and confused, and my direct boss had to get involved. I ended up sending a letter to my coworker explaining that this patient walked into my office, and my priority was to provide her with the best care. My colleague ended up leaving the practice—and the profession—within 6 months.

"I will not tolerate jealousy-fueled harassment from coworkers."

Kristen Fuller, MD

When jealousy strikes

Jealousy is an ugly character trait. It’s often rooted in individuals who are unhappy with themselves, and therefore cannot be happy for others—regardless of the circumstances.

It’s found in all professions, but frequently in medicine—in particular, surgical specialties, due to the deep-rooted competitiveness that begins in the undergrad years and medical school.

Within our profession, jealousy can often be categorized as either hierarchical envy (eg, residents vs fellows) or patient-related envy (such as what I encountered). Hierarchical envy often makes socialization difficult, as peers are always seen as competitors, and socializing with coworkers as competition—not a collective effort to help patients and further medicine.

Jealousy causes, effects

As physicians, we develop an ego and sense of superiority thanks to many years of hard work and merit, and may never realize these traits can turn harmful.[]

We envy classmates for their good grades and the positive feedback they get from other peers and teachers.

We learn throughout our journey as future physicians that we’re becoming important people in society. We begin to exhibit self-sufficiency and pride that can, in fact, nurture professional jealousy as we become practicing doctors.

The challenging years of medical school, followed by incredibly demanding residency training, come with hundreds of exams and assessments (some subjective), which may stimulate feelings of collegial envy and, later, professional envy.

Jealousy could intensify as medical students ascend into careers as physicians, possibly leading to:

  • Tension among coworkers

  • Sarcastic smiles and sly remarks about another physician’s diagnostic approach and treatment

  • Loosely commenting that tests or treatments were wrong

  • Talking down to medical school students or residents in front of patients or other coworkers

  • Generally speaking poorly about other coworkers

Such attempts at degrading coworkers due to underlying jealousy can lead to long-term conflict situations, or even physical assaults, harassment, and smear campaigns that can not only cost someone their reputation but can lead to severe disciplinary action.

Combating professional envy

"In my opinion, the best remedy for jealousy is finding happiness and peace within yourself—and then allowing yourself to be happy for someone else."

Kristen Fuller, MD

This isn’t easy, especially in this day and age where we work to the bone and live in a competitive society.

Another way to avoid professional jealousy is to develop self-discipline and devotion to your patients. The primary reason we practice medicine is to benefit our patients—not for our own personal interests. Overcoming jealousy is difficult, but here are some possible approaches that could help:

  • Find a therapist who treats physicians.

  • Surround yourself with people who uplift you.

  • Develop (and practice) healthy hobbies.

  • Take time away from work.

  • Avoid being around people who put others down or gossip; walk away instead of engaging in these conversations.

  • Realize there will always be someone better than you at certain things, and you will always be better than someone else at other things.

  • Accept that patients may prefer another doctor, and that’s okay.

Read Next: Real Talk: When your colleagues are narcissists
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