I Have a Work Persona?

My wife came to work recently, and observed me ‘at work’.  We had a nice, brief conversation, and I went back to medicine in the ER.

That night, we had the following enlightening exchange:

Wife: “When I saw you first, you were on the telephone; I listened, and you were pissed.  Then, when we talked you were your normal self, and then when you turned around you were pissed again.”
Me: ?really?
Wife: “Yes, it was remarkable.”

Persona, per the Encyclopedia Britannica:

 in psychology, the personality that an individual projects to others, as differentiated from the authentic self. The term, coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, is derived from the Latin persona, referring to the masks worn by Etruscan mimes.

For the record, so far as I know this is the first time Carl Jung has entered my life.

And, one of my private concerns seems to have come true.  I’ve often heard of docs who were ‘different at work, but not in real life’, and hoped it wouldn’t be me.  Alas, I have a public and private personality, and they’re different.  (For the record, my wife’s  definition of pissed (I asked) is me using my stern voice: no shouting, just the ‘I’m not tolerating any crap right now’ voice).


Since then I’ve been more aware of my ‘at-work’ persona, and I have to admit it’s not the real me.  The real me would laugh and joke with most of the people I meet, be they patients, staff or housekeepers.  Having paid more critical attention since the enlightenment, I actually only laugh and joke with the housekeepers and the secretaries.  The patients get the friendly but all-business me, not quite Joe Friday (just the facts, ma’am), but not a long way off either; the nurses get the mildly pleasant but mostly-business me. 

There wasn’t a conscious ‘I”ll be a different guy’ moment, and I think this began in residency, but it’s real.  Now whether, and what, to do about it.  I’m not sure it’s bad for me or my patients, but it’s not a happy realization, either.


  1. See the problems you get when you mix business with family?

  2. I’ve often wanted to be a fly on the wall at the home of some of our docs… I’ve heard most of them are quite different “in the real world” but have yet to see it. We have a husband and wife team of doc’s who are polar opposites from each other while working, but I hear they are completely different when at home…

    And, a side note… The nurses appreciate doc’s who are friendly and can crack a joke, too… Granted, they don’t have quite the immediate power to ruin your world like a pissed secretary can, but they can make it a lot easier…

  3. Soar Loosers says:

    We all put on our “Game Face” when we go to work. Ain’t no thang!

  4. TheNewGuy says:

    Soar Loosers took the words right out of my mouth.

    Don’t sweat it.

  5. Aerospace Genius says:

    Thanks for posting on this, GruntDoc. I’m paying a stiff price at work for exactly the same scenario, so perhaps it’s genetic.

    Although the “cute cuddly teddy bear” persona I have adopted since has made work more enjoyable for everyone, it has yet to bear fruit regarding the projects I’m able to contribute to. That’s making it harder to keep it up.

  6. I worked for years as a clerk in various medical settings, and I observed that doctors develop a sort of psychological wall to protect themselves from needy people. Everybody wants something from the doc, and the doc has to focus on the science of the case, not the patient’s emotional needs.

    Sometimes I’d see interns develop the “wall” all of a sudden when they got used or manipulated by patients.

    Do you guys not know that you do this, or are you just too polite to mention it?