In Thailand They Treat Doctors like Gods and This is a Bad Thing

I don’t trust doctors. I respect their superior knowledge, but I know from experience that they are fallible. I qualified as an RGN so my views are backed by plenty of experience. I’ve worked as a nurse in various medical and surgical specialties, and I’ve been employed in hospitals in Ireland, England, and the Middle East. I’ve seen plenty of medical errors and near misses. Medical professionals are just people and as liable to mistakes as anyone else. The reason why most of these mistakes don’t lead to tragedy is that the system makes allowances for human fallibility.

Medical Errors Happen

Some of the most dangerous medical errors occur because of drug prescriptions. Doctors have a lot on their mind and they will sometimes prescribe the wrong drug for the wrong patient. They can also mess up the dosage – occasionally prescribing lethal amounts. In hospitals I’ve worked these errors are usually picked up before the patient is given the wrong medication. Nurses are accountable for any drugs they hand out. This means that even if the doctor has made the mistake it is up to the nurse to spot it. Patients may wonder why nurses take so long to hand out a few tablets; it is usually because they are double checking the prescription. It is also the nurse’s responsibility to check for any reasons why the patient should not be taking the drug. Nurses make mistakes with drugs too, but a lot of errors are discovered because they don’t just hand out medications blindly.

Western nurses tend to be very assertive – they have to be. Their role is to act as an advocate for patients and you can do this if you are timid. This job of standing up for their patients will often bring them into conflict with doctors. It can become heated. Nurses do not see doctors as their bosses but instead as fellow members in the multidisciplinary team. They have different agendas and so this can mean disagreements. Such conflict is actually good because it helps ensure that patients get the best possible care. If a nurse sees the doctor making an error they will have no fear about challenging this.

Nowadays patients in western countries tend to be well informed. There once was a time when doctors were held in awe, but those days have gone. The web makes it easy to find out about the different medical conditions. I’ve met many patients who were far better informed about their diagnosis than the expert. People are no longer happy to just trust the doctor. They want to know what is going on and they want to be part of the decision making process – this is only fair as it is their health on the line.

In Thailand They Treat Doctors like Gods

I’ve never worked in a Thai hospital, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time in them over the years – especially since my son was born. Before moving to Thailand I had the arrogant assumption that the hospitals here must be a bit primitive. In fact there are some that would rival the best in Europe and the States. It is a mixed bag though; the hospitals in rural areas can be very basic. There is (almost) free health care for the poor, but in many ways you get what you pay for.

My biggest concern with health care in Thailand is that doctors are treated like gods. They are viewed as infallible beings, and they seem to expect such adoration. I’ve politely asked questions in the past about their treatment plans for my son, but they act as if such queries are an insult. I’m just expected to be the obedient recipient of their wisdom. My last experience with a doctor here was to check out my sore ribs. This sleepy physician wouldn’t answer any of my questions. All he was prepared to do was prescribe medications that I was already taking anyway. This was a private hospital, and it wasn’t cheap.

From what I’ve seen of the nurses in Thailand they are caring and competent. I’ve also witnessed how they act as handmaidens to the godly doctors. There are clinics which are run predominately by nurses, but once the doctor is there it is clear who the boss is. I would imagine that it is rare that a nurse will stand up for a patient against the doctors. It is also unlikely that they will question the doctor’s actions – maybe it is better to let a patient die then to cause a god to lose face.

Apparently this unwillingness to treat superiors as fallible is widespread in Asian culture. There was the horrible case of the Korean airliner that crashed because the crew were unwilling to question the captain. These underlings knew that the boss had made a terrible error, but they were too afraid of making him lose face to warn him. I could imagine a similar situation happening with doctors here in Thailand.

What do you think?

Latest posts by Paul Garrigan (see all)

13 thoughts on “In Thailand They Treat Doctors like Gods and This is a Bad Thing

  1. Hi Paul

    Yes, I can agree with and relate to a lot of what you say.

    I would steer from saying I “respect their superior knowledge” simply because the word “superior” only further reinforces people’s perceptions of thier (damaging and isoloating) social position. I repect the study and hard work they have done as much as I respect anyone else’s study and hard work in any other occupation.


    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Paul I am with you 100% on this one. Best doctor I visited here was German in a large International hospital in BKK. Locally trying to have a conversation with my local quack is a bit like pulling teeth.

    Now Thai dentists…….

    1. 🙂 Thanks Mike. What worries me is how surprised they act when you do question them – you would think I’d just done a poo on their desk. Complete trust in doctors is as dangerous as complete trust in spirit doctors.

  3. They do the same in UK. Its the same most places. Doctors are agents of the state effectively. Corporations seem to be running the show so they are really just assisting the state in enriching the elites by way of Big Pharma. So yes I am a total cynic about the agenda of doctors and the way the state chose to train them in order to gain control over the masses. Hence the god like status. Forced inoculations filled with mercury.. Forced inoculations at gunpoint.. Forced sterilization.. what does all that tell you? Big Pharma is one of the corporate elites and is helping the forced depopulation agenda. Not good 🙂
    131 children vaccinated at gunpoint in Malawi
    other examples of medical tyranny.. of which there are ! plenty…

  4. Paul, Thailand, IMHO, is like many farang countries about one or two generations ago…and that’s not a bad thing sometimes. In my Mum’s day, when she was raising me, what the doctor said was gospel. Hence, my brother’s eroding teeth through misdiagnosis. Then came the Internet, self education and/or a return to natural remedies/self treatment.

    I suggested something to my doctor (about my daughter) once, around 20 years ago and I swear I felt her eyes burning into the side of my head. I was RIGHT, by the way 🙂

    No doubt its only a matter of time before Thailand’s doctors become accustomed to being questioned.

    1. Hi Snap, I agree that when it comes to our own health it is better to ask questions. I don’t like causing a fuss, but with something serious like this it is important to make a stand.

  5. Hey Paul, I guess I never thought about this because it seems that doctors everywhere are treated like gods. Even in the US, where we are obviously wont to question everything that comes our way, questioning a doctor is really not on. We still do it, but…

    Even with the doctors being as you said here in Thailand, I *much* MUCH prefer the health care I get here. Yeah, I pay for an expensive private hospital, but something that would take literally all day or even DAYS back home takes just a few hours here. It’s amaaaaaazing! 🙂

  6. Hi Paul,

    I went to the emergency room here in Atlanta, Georgia USA with Pneumonia and a intestinal blockage from a stoma hernia. I think I had the Pneumonia for 3 months when I first went to a doctor the week before I went to emergency. I had the stoma hernia from coughing for three winters of colds brought home from preschool by my preschool age kids. When I had the blockage I was almost out of the strong narcotic cough medicine and used the last dose in the hospital and then the hospital gave me the narcotic cough medicine the last day there. The first night a surgeon came in and pushed my intestines back in my stomach cavity with his finger and the blockage cleared out. But then pressure came to have the stoma hernia surgery done immediately as the surgeons there were not affiliated with my insurance company so could only do emergency surgery and kept saying into the next evening “if you leave I can not do the surgery” From two surgeons and others I heard this. Then the next evening when I was supposed to leave the surgeon said it would be against medical advise because I might have an infection…hahaha When I left and was checking my prescriptions and saw they forgot to write one for the narcotic cough medicine the doctor on duty told the nurse he would not write it since I was leaving. The nurse was whispering like she was so scared of this guy. His surgeon buddy told me the most important thing was to “not cough” Because he could hear my intestines being pulled through my stomach wall. But I am single dad,(my Thai wife left us when taking care of kids got to be to much work) my cell phone battery had died and I had to get home to my 4 & 5 year old kids with babysitter who expected me at 5 and it was 7:30pm. I stopped at urgent care center on the way home to get prescription…So much for western hospitals, doctors and nurses…

  7. Thank you very much for this article highlighting some of the dangers of health care in Thailand. I agree that the belief that Thai doctors are infallible is problematic. Health care in Thailand is inexpensive and usually good, but frequent incidents remind tourists that there are still dangers. Anyone looking to get medical treatment in Thailand should be careful, and ask around and search online to make sure they go to a safe clinic or hospital. A friend of mine got dental care at a shady street clinic, and, not surprisingly, messed up her cavity fillings and caused her a lot of pain. People don’t deserve to suffer like that, or even lose their life because of this unprofessional care. Anyone who is the victim of poor medical care in Thailand should immediately notify the police, and strongly consider hiring a Thailand lawyer to file a malpractice lawsuit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *