Is Being Too Nice Part of a Physician’s Life?

It came out of nowhere. One of those life lessons that I didn’t know I needed to learn. Until I did. There I was, at a weekend business retreat, hobnobbing with a group of women executives. Feeling only slightly out of my element. Trying to blend in.

There was a break in the meeting. And what happened next made me rethink how I approached everything.

Several of us walked to the ladies’ room, chatting over the communal sinks, checking our hair and lipstick.

That’s when it happened. A woman I had just met looked up at me, as I was applying my lipstick. “Can I borrow your lipstick for a minute? I forgot mine.” Dumbfounded at such a request, I silently handed over my lipstick to this stranger, who proceed to use it, return it to me, and make her exit. I looked down at the tarnished lipstick. Shook my head. And tossed it in the trash.

A simple thing, but it rattled me for the rest of the day. What was it about me that made that woman think it would be alright to ask such a personal favor? Does she not know I’m a doctor and a germaphobe? What if she has a cold? A sore throat? Herpes?

Then it struck me. Boundaries. I didn’t have mine in place. Especially not at a function where I was trying to fit in to the crowd. I realized I needed to get front and center on my boundaries. That doing so had nothing to do with not being “nice.”

As a doctor, I set my boundaries fairly well. I know which surgeries are my specialty and which I need to refer. I know how many patients I can see in a day without the wait for each patient being enormous. This hasn’t come easy in the knowing. But it’s maintained my buffer against burnout. And it’s one of the ways I empower myself.

What do you do in the name of being “nice”?

If you’re at all like me, you find yourself doing the priority shuffle. When a request comes in and you already had plans to attend your niece’s soccer game, do you cave and add on that work item instead? Or do you regroup and put your work assignment on your list behind your family priorities? Are you letting the priority of perfection burn you out?

In a way, it all comes down to values, doesn’t it? Are you morphing your values or maintaining them as you go about your day?




If you lose sight of these three things along the way, in the name of not being “nice enough,” you lose sight of yourself.

You lose sight of the person you know you are, when you’re by yourself and no one is watching.

You lose sight of the person you were born to be. Every day.

So, when it comes to being nice or being authentic, wonderful boundary-in-place you . . . pick you!




CATEGORIES: Blog on March 10, 2015 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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9 thoughts on “Is Being Too Nice Part of a Physician’s Life?

  1. Mani Saint-Victor, MD

    It’s easy to fall into the niceness trap at the expense of eroding self-worth.

    Working in psychiatry was a crash course in protecting my boundaries. It took me a while to learn to recognize when someone was putting hooks in to drain and manipulate.

    It took another bit of adjusting my thinking to compartmentalize my doctor, parent, friend, and spouse identities and value orders too.

  2. Rizwana Iqbal Khan FRCSI

    One of the things I read recently and try to implement is that when someone asks you to do something and you cannot or do not want to, due to various reasons, it’s best to start by saying ” I would have liked/loved to have done that but I am afraid I can’t”. You often don’t need to give a reason, people are more understanding if you show interest in their proposal before saying no. This way one can still be polite and gentle.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author


      Thanks for this suggestion. I love it. I’ve also read that one can say “I don’t,” rather than “I can’t.” When one says, “I don’t stay late on Thursdays,” for example, it’s better received than “I can’t.” Blessings to you.

  3. Julieta

    Good subject! We need boundaries so straight that people notice before asking, but so flexible to encourage people to speak…

    I loved Rizwana Iqbal Khan suggestion and will used it right away!

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author


      Thanks for your comment. Yes, boundaries are so important. And I’m so grateful for suggestions from other doctors that help us all. We’re all in this together, my friends! Bring on the wisdom!

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