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PERSONAL HEALTH : Curing Doctors of Fighting on Job

January 11, 1994|THE WASHINGTON POST

Did you hear the one about the surgeon and the anesthesiologist who got into a fistfight in the surgical suite while the patient awaited her gallbladder operation?

Unfortunately, this is not a joke.

The bizarre spectacle made news recently when the two doctors reached an agreement with the Massachusetts State Board of Registration in Medicine, which fined them $10,000 each and put them on probation for five years.

Peculiar as the case may seem, heated quarrels between doctors on the job are not unusual. And although most doctors stop short of duking it out, conflicts among health-care professionals are sometimes serious enough to interfere with patient care.

Paul Gitlin, chief of the Massachusetts medical board that investigated the case, said the clash was classic, in that it involved a surgeon and an anesthesiologist. Individuals in those two specialties are well-known for their mutual antagonism, born of the intense pressure of shared responsibility for a patient's life under the knife and the traditionally different personality types of the two. Surgeons are typically personified as cowboy go-getters, anesthesiologists as cool, calm, fine-tuners.

In recent years, conflict-resolution has become a component of medical school training.

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