Doctors: You have a PR problem

Over the last few decades, public perception of physicians has been on the decline. Many issues are to blame, but a largely overlooked contributing factor is the media. Physicians are often portrayed negatively, with stories of narcotic abuse, greed and medical mistakes dominating the news. Rather than fight back, physician organizations have stood silently and allowed their reputations to be tarnished. On the other hand, nursing organizations have been busy pursuing many successful public relations campaigns, which have resulted in an image of compassion and intelligence. They have done this, however, at the expense of physicians.

During the mid-20th century, to be a doctor was one of the most prestigious careers one could achieve. Yet, survey data from 2012 revealed that only 34 percent of Americans have “great confidence” in physicians, compared with 73% in 1966 (Blendon 2014). News, social media and magazines are filled with negative stories about doctors. Bloggers tell patients to ignore their physicians’ advice and “do that home birth” or “say no to that vaccine.” It seems that the public trusts actors and Playboy playmates more than their doctors. This loss in social status and negative public perception has greatly affected physicians, and subsequently changed the care they provide to their patients. In a 2008 survey, only 6% of physicians described their morale as positive.

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