Doctor vs Patient. 7 differences and 2 similarities

Wim Rozenberg Photography

The differences between doctor and patient might be considerable, yet I believe the similarities far outweigh them.

Difference 1. Work

A working doctor is not a patient with something bad, otherwise she wouldn’t be working. The patient who visits his doctor with something bad, meanwhile, is definitely not working at the time of their visit. This is the first and most important difference: the doctor is working; the patient is sick. The doctor is doing something she trained for. She has considerable knowledge about the patient’s condition, she’s seen it before. The doctor is simply doing what all good doctors do. The patient on the other hand hasn’t trained for this disease, hasn’t attended a lecture on What To Do If I Get Illness XYZ, has never experienced it before. The patient is simply doing what all good patients do: hoping for the best and hoping for the best doctor while he’s at it. Doctors can’t merely hope for the best – they need to make rational decisions.

Difference 2. Thinking capacity

Thus, we come to difference number 2. Doctors think according to set patterns, treatment plans, attained knowledge. Doctors can make a mental leap from A to B. The patient also endeavours to think rationally, just like before. But she simultaneously has to deal with new information, new emotions, new physical conditions. The patient needs to make new mental leaps. Quiet contemplation can only begin once the novelty of the disease has worn off a little.

Difference 3. Knowledge

This difference is part of the previous difference: the doctor possesses knowledge. The patient also possesses knowledge of his disease, but usually only about how it affects him personally. The doctor makes choices and risks, because she fully understands them. The patient makes his own choices too, but is painfully aware that he lacks sufficient knowledge to make the best decision.

Difference 4. Decision, decisions, decisions

Knowledge empowers you to make good decisions. The doctor benefits from the necessary knowledge, and must therefore make decisions. For the doctor, knowledge might outbalance her feelings – she makes her decisions based on facts. The patient also benefits from both knowledge and feelings, but his feelings likely outweigh his knowledge. The patient must therefore be capable of convincing the doctor of his feelings, in order that the doctor concludes: this patient is so convinced of his feelings, they must be true. The doctor makes the decision, the patient provides input.

Difference 5. Jungle fever

The doctor and patient are in a jungle. There can only be one survivor on those few millilitres of rainwater and that measly half worm of protein. There’s a good chance that the doctor will survive, whether she wants to or not. What happens in the jungle, happens deep down in the consultation room. The doctor knows she’s going to survive, whereas the patient’s instinct insists: the doctor is the survivor.

That jungle difference is a tad inconceivable, which some might deny it. I don’t believe that doctor and patient face each other off as if there can be only 1 survivor either, but…primeval instincts do exist.

Difference 6. Levels of interest

Both the disease and the person afflicted with the disease are of interest to the doctor. And that encourages her to work with the patient. The patient doesn’t find his illness particularly interesting, certainly not as interesting as a cure. The patient does find his doctor pretty interesting. Indeed, she must meet all kinds of requirements, that doctor. But, it’s what the doctor actually DOES, that the patient finds truly interesting.

Difference 7. Money

The doctor earns her living by being a doctor. Whether she earns only a little or lots of money, it doesn’t really matter. The patient, on the other hand, risks losing his entire livelihood.

Similarity 1. Power is most definitely not a difference

The power debate is no longer applicable. It’s time doctors gave up that 1960’s ‘power to the patient’ philosophy. If there is such a thing as power, power OF the patient is much more appropriate in any case. Or better still, power of both patient and doctor combined. The patient is thus a collective name for the patient and his team, the doctor a collective name for the doctor and her team.

Similarity 2. Human

The doctor is only human, she makes mistakes, she’s tired, she does her best. The patient is only human, he makes mistakes, he’s sick, he’s tired, he does his best.


It goes without saying that there are differences between doctor and patient. Everyone knows that you need complementary skills in business. Not everyone can be a copywriter or a software developer for example. I never hear myself saying: power to the copywriter, or: from now on we’re going to make collective decisions, or: I might be your supervisor, but we’re on a level playing field here. Of course not. We do what we’re good at. Just like the doctor and her patient.