White Coat Syndrome Hurts Sales

White Coat Syndrome Hurts Sales

Most of what I do all day is see patients. To many, I examine, diagnose and patients with retina problems. I have found, that I am actually a bit of a salesman….I have to sell myself. That is, I have to gain the trust of my patients in order for them to let me treat them, be it medications or surgery. I have a short time to sell myself to the patient. In many ways, this is not too different than your first job interview.

Why sell? In short, doctors need to sell themselves to establish trust. We all have our own ways.

Common ways include impressing with credentials; diplomas, certificates of memberships, awards, etc.  Most doctor’s offices display many, many of these on the office walls.  Most don’t actually understand what they mean, if anything.  Doctor’s sometimes try to use language that is not understood by the patient, they’ll use fancy terms not easily understood.  To me, this is a form of intimidation and nothing else.

Most of the time, I have found that a different approach works best for me.  I try to disarm and relax a patient as quickly as possible.  I try and destruct the “I am a busy doctor and barely have time for you approach.”  I work in either scrubs, sometimes a polo shirt, sometimes a dress shirt, rarely a tie (especially in summer), but never a white coat.  This quickly distinguishes me from the usual “doctor” dress style.

I have a really quick way of determining if I’ve ever met the patient before.  This tells me to either introduce myself or to greet by saying hello again.  A small point, but an important one.

I rarely introduce myself as  “Dr. Wong.”  I just use my first name.  Can there be confusion between myself and another doctor or technician?  Sure, but people are pretty smart or I tell them, that indeed, I am the doctor.

Lastly, although part of every retinal exam includes standing to examine the patient, I always sit down when speaking with the patient and/or the family.  Standing and talking to patients is a no- no for two reasons.  My patients are sitting while being examined and remain sitting for our discussion (consultation).  Standing above a sitting person is intimidating.  (I once was told that sales persons trying to sell to Walmart were placed in a chair.  The negotiations took place while the Walmart buying agent stood above the poor sales person.)  You don’t want to “sell yourself” by intimidation.  Standing also says, via body language, that I am in a hurry and need to be somewhere else.

There are lots of other ways to represent yourself as a physician and gain trust.  These are a few that well for me, really well.  I found that trying to level the playing field works best for me.  I am no better than my patients, I just know more about eyes and retina.


Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist

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