Even though I had seen many different derogatory responses to Anne-Marie Cunningham’s blog post Social media, black humour and professionals..., this seemed to be the pinnacle of criticism to me. I follow her blog because of the writing she has done about medical education, and I almost always find something challenging or interesting in her viewpoints. In this case she had written about an episode of black humor that had taken place on twitter, and the ensuing layperson (and professional) response to the black humor, pointing out that it was potentially offensive. The specifics of the black humor, and the reality that it was offensive to some became immaterial after Dr Cunningham brought her concerns to light in her blog. In it, she made some excellent points about Twitter being an open space, caution needing to be applied to professional communications, and consideration of how black humor affects perceptions of professionalism. What ensued in the comments to her post were mixed, and on the blog itself, there were some constructive comments, both positive and negative in nature. However in the greater medical social media sphere it was clear that Dr Cunningham had touched a nerve that generated a visceral ad hominem response. This in and of itself spoke more about the health care professions than any crass joke on Twitter.
The two things I prize more than anything about medicine is my future degree (my position) and that I might be useful to my patients and to society at large (my usefulness). Thus to throw a phrase like “Have you considered resigning, as you seem to be useless?” to me seems to be the foulest of insults to a professional. Even though it wasn’t directed at me, I felt like I had been kicked. I wish I had some hand waving platitudes that would soothe over how this has made me feel. My past years in health care, and in other professional environments teaches me that the subtle dehumanization of others in language is a path to true dehumanization through behavior. Conversely, I realize that health care workers (including physicians) are real people, with real emotions, frustrations, and failings. So I guess I see both sides of those issues, and I understand them. What I cannot understand are those that feel that the need to vent, debase , or insult others to relieve the stress of their profession or of their lives. The way the head and the mouth goes, the hands and heart will follow. Simplistic? Perhaps. Useless? No.