How to Deal With an Arrogant Doctor

Many of us have encountered an arrogant or egotistical healthcare provider. They come across as mightier-than-thou, and seem brusque, superior or conceited, as if we are supposed to feel lucky to be in this person's presence, or fearful enough that we had better not cross him.

When we aren't feeling well, which of course is the reason we are visiting this individual, facing such a big personality may leave us feeling intimidated, angry, frustrated, or a host of other negative emotions, none of which is helpful for improving our health.

Confidence and self-assurance are good traits for a healthcare provider. We want to know that our healthcare providers are confident about their work and are positive about their abilities to help us. But wise patients understand that there is no room for arrogance, narcissism or condescension from egotistical medical professionals. Their lack of respect for our needs and their difficult personalities will inhibit the partnership we need to develop, and we won't get the care we need from them.

Here are some ideas for understanding and dealing with difficult healthcare providers.

doctor talking to patient
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A Large Ego Is a Cover-Up

Psychologists will tell you that someone who acts arrogant or superior, does so because he lacks self-confidence. Instead of truly feeling superior, he instead, truly feels inferior. So he'll use intimidation, or act conceited to cover up that lack of self-esteem. In the schoolyard, this healthcare provider was a bully. In a medical setting, that bully's intimidation takes the form of arrogance.

This healthcare provider has spent a lifetime with his personality and you won't be able to change it. Therefore, your choices are to either learn to work around it or to find another healthcare provider.

How do you know which approach to take? You'll want to assess the importance of this particular healthcare provider to your health. Will this be a short-term relationship or a long-term one? Does this healthcare provider have special knowledge or abilities that others do not? Or are there other healthcare providers who are available to help you so you don't have to put up with this one?

Become familiar with the steps for finding a new healthcare provider before you simply fire Dr. Arrogant. While we would love to tell you just to find another healthcare provider, that is much easier said than done in primary care, and some specialties.

How to Develop a Working Relationship

If you decide to stay with this healthcare provider ​or believe you'll be able to establish a relationship, here are some steps to take to diminish the effects of the difficult aspects of his personality:

  • First, understand that not only would this individual deny he is egotistical, he would also deny that he is a bully or has an inferiority complex. In truth, he has developed that personality because it serves his purposes; people are so intimidated that they don't try to get to know him any better. He doesn't want to be pleasant, friendly or kind because then people would discover just how inferior he is.
  • Know he doesn't want to be friendly, so don't try to make him your friend. Your goal will simply be to take those intimidating edges out of the relationship so you can get the help you need.
  • Recognize that his difficult personality is not a true reflection of his abilities as a healthcare provider. He may, or may not, be a good healthcare provider who's able to meet your medical needs. He may come across as the best surgeon/cardiologist/or any other "gist" there is, and maybe he is. But maybe he is not. You'll need to work to discover whether he can truly help you, or whether his arrogance is covering up weaknesses in his abilities.
  • Ironically, it may be that this healthcare provider's inferiority complex actually works in your favor. If you have a difficult illness or puzzling symptoms, and he can help you or solve your diagnosis mystery, that "proves" his superiority. His success as your healthcare provider helps him get beyond his feelings of inferiority.
  • Remember, though, that communication between the two of you is critical, so be sure that his ego doesn't inhibit your ability to communicate about the important aspects of your illness or condition.
  • This healthcare provider will think that everything he tells you is the best answer. When it comes to asking smart questions, or sharing information you've learned about your condition, know that Dr. Arrogant may resist the discussion, ignore you, or get angry. If that happens, smooth out the conversation by stating that you understand what he's explained to you, and that he can create a win-win for both of you by explaining this additional information. Don't be intimidated out of the conversation! But know that you'll have to approach this difficult person differently to step around his ego.
  • If you run into a problem with your treatment (for example, the drug he prescribed doesn't work well), then make sure you state the problem as objectively as you can. An intimidator may try to make it sound as if the fault lies with you, the patient. Telling him you are having a problem will sound to him as if you are accusing him of making a mistake, so you'll have to smooth those edges, too.

The most important aspect of the relationship with this healthcare provider is that you will have to work hard to be sure you can ask the questions you need to ask, get the answers you need to have, and get the attention and service you deserve.

Recent studies have shown a correlation between arrogance, obnoxiousness, and medical errors. Once you're feeling better or stronger, you may choose to take a role in removing these types of egos from the profession of medicine. If so, there are places to report bad provider behavior with the goal of improving that behavior or removing that ego from the practice of medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I deal with a rude doctor?

    If you deal with a rude doctor, ask yourself if it's still possible to build a working relationship with them. Nobody expects you to become friends, but the doctor should be able to effectively communicate their thoughts and findings about your health. If a doctor's behavior makes communication difficult, and you can't foresee a way to resolve it through a conversation, then it may be time to look for a different healthcare provider.

  • What are examples of being arrogant?

    One example of being arrogant is a professional athlete who refuses to speak to their fans because they believe themselves to be far superior. Another example can be a doctor who acts superior to their patients because they are confident that they possess greater intelligence.

  • How is egotistical different than arrogant?

    While they are similar, egotistical and arrogant have slightly different meanings. Egotism refers to a person who is self-centered and consistently talks or writes about themselves first and foremost. Arrogance is when a person shows a sense of pride or entitlement that can be accompanied by looking down on others.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.