Every doctor should work as a waiter

February 17, 2006

When you rely on tips, you quickly learn how to make the customer happy.

I hear many complaints from my fellow residents at the retirement home where I now live about the poor service they get from their doctors. What I hear sounds inexcusable to me: Doctors don't listen, doctors don't spend time, doctors are always hurried, doctors don't return phone calls, and on and on.

I believe I know how to solve the problem. I offer the suggestion that learning to wait on tables be included in the regular medical curriculum.

From my own experience, I am completely convinced that my earlier job as a waiter provided me with the best training to become a good doctor. When you earn your pay primarily from tips, you learn very quickly how important it is to please the customer.

I don't recall that I or the other waiters were given any specific instructions or formal training. It was assumed that we would become good waiters intuitively and with experience. We pooled all the advice we could give to each other, since all money earned by tips was tallied at the end of each week and divided equally.

What did we learn?

First impressions count. How you dress is important. You don't have to be stylish, but you must be neat and clean, clothes unstained, shoes not badly scuffed, hair washed and combed.

How you initially greet the diner counts. A couple of generations ago, you would always address an older woman by her married name and an older man by "Mr." Now we tend to be fairly informal. At my retirement home, I recently addressed one of the residents as "Mrs. Johnson." She responded rather abruptly, " 'Mrs. Johnson' was my mother-in-law's name. My name," she added, "is 'Helen.' "

Nowadays, in greeting patients, it's best to ask how the patient likes to be addressed and make some note on his or her record for future reference. Your staff should also be advised of the patient's preference.

Remember what the diner wants and needs. You learn to remember that Mrs. Simpson takes decaf, while Harold Block drinks only tea. Mrs. Clark has raisin bread each morning. Mr. Kline likes wheat bread toasted. Remembering all these facts saves you a lot of time and trouble chasing back and forth from kitchen to dining room. Plus, you're giving the diner good service which may be recognized and rewarded.

When, later in medical practice, you remember that your patient, Helen Ogilvie, had gastric bleeding a long time ago from a relatively small dose of aspirin, you do not ever prescribe aspirin for her again.

Be self-effacing. A waiter never uses anger in responding to anger. A waiter never raises his voice to answer any complaint. In brief, waiting on tables compels you to be a gentleman at all times and, in doing so, you learn to become one-a worthwhile attribute even when you become a physician.

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