An All Time Dumb Question (and the answer)

        There is one question no pharmaceutical rep should never ask me, at least if they want to get a second question.  It is this:

        “Doctor, how do you approach the patient with…”  fill in the blank; whatever clinical scenario you choose does not matter.

        Here would be the parallel for a musician.  Lets say you are a mandolin player, and you finish a set with your bluegrass band.  A member of the audience approaches you after the show.  “I enjoyed that.  Could you show me how to play that little guitar in an hour?”

        The answer is, “Well buy a quality instrument, find a good instructor, play at least an hour a day for a year, then come back.  After that you will have a start on it.  But no, I can’t tell you anything in an hour.”

        The same is true in medicine.  Unless the rep is prepared to go to school and invest a hundred hours a week for a few years in basic science before they get to interview the first patient, and then more years of hundred hour weeks to explore every nuance of patient history before they prescribe the first medication and then, well….   the best thing to do is not ask such a question.  Because the answer is, “First you take an history and then you do an examination, and…. oh well, never mind.”  Anything less is like asking a pilot to take off an airplane without going through a pre-flight check list.   (Another approach to life I do not recommend.)

        At best it indicates some marketing guru made them do it.  Reps do some good in this world, and I want to hear about their products.  However, I have no interest to try and explain how to be a doctor in a superficial response.

        I am reminded of the great golf teacher, Harvey Penick.   He was the famous instructor from Austin, Texas.  He taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, so he knew a little about the game.  So the story goes (paraphrased) his son-in-law wanted to learn to play golf.  The young man was a fine athlete; a three letter kind of guy who was an All-American in basketball.

         “Mr. Penick,”  he said.  (no one called him Harvey)  “I want to learn to play golf.  Can you give me some lessons?”

        “Sure.  I’ll send some clubs.  Next time I’m there I’ll show you a few things.”


        Mr. Penick shipped him out a set  of clubs.

        After a few months Mr. Penick went to visit.  The son-in-law greeted him with great enthusiasm.  “I sure am glad to see you.”  Months had gone by and it had been a terrible go of it.  “This game is giving me a fit.”  Like all beginners the hooks, slices, and tops far outnumbered the sporadic solid strikes of the ball. ” Why did you wait so long for the first lesson?”

        Mr. Penick smiled.  “This is the second lesson.  You have already had the first.  In golf, a great athlete must be humbled before they are ready for the teacher.  Now we are ready to start.”

         I feel the same way about some of these reps.  They are young, smart, educated, good-looking, and pop society hip, but hopelessly unsophisticated about medicine.  I can no more give them a sound bite approach to lipid management than I can teach them to play the mandolin in an hour, or golf either one.  It also holds true in writing, a fact I have begun to learn over the last nine years.  Each discipline takes years to even get started.

        Mr. Penick died a very old and wise man.  He charged five dollars for lessons, but to everyone who knew him he was a very rich man.  He understood things about life most people never know while here on Earth.  He even came close to understanding golf, which is near  impossible.  I wish I had the privilege to know him, but at least I got to learn from his ‘Little Red Book.’  I am glad he left it behind.

        Maybe I need to teach some of the drug reps how to play golf.  I’d start by making them memorize Mr. Penick first. 

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: golf stories, Philosophy, Writing

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14 Comments on “An All Time Dumb Question (and the answer)”

  1. Tara Maya Says:

    I agree. It is the all time dumb question. What’s odd is people understand it for their own field but somehow forget it applies to others.

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Tara,

    You are so right. I can’t imagine asking a rodeo cowboy how to ride in one easy lesson, but people get the notion there is nothing to it. It has always been an odd phenomenon to me too.

    Dr. B

  3. Mrs. Chili Says:

    Everything seems easy from the sidelines. As a teacher, I’m used to being undervalued and underestimated; after all, I only work a few hours a day, all I do is read books, and I get the summers off, right?

  4. drtombibey Says:

    Mrs. Chili,

    My wife’s people were teachers. At night they graded papers. They ran the school newspaper and yearbook, directed the prom, went to mandatory football games, etc.

    They also had a real estate business on the side. I think my father-in-law did that so he could afford to keep being a chemistry teacher. He was great with the kids.

    God bless the teachers. My high school Chemistry teacher changed my life.

    Dr. B

  5. Kim Justesen Says:

    Dr. B, you and are I truly channeling the same muse today. I had another one come in recently. A woman who is an interior designer (and a darn good one), told me she had a story in mind about her family.

    “Do you think it will work?” she asked.

    “I’d have to see what you wrote first,” I said. I mean, I can’t comment on something I’ve never seen.

    “Well, I don’t want to write it if it isn’t going to work,” she said.

    “Then probably not,” I answered. Haven’t heard anything else. Don’t expect I will.

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Kim,

    Oh my goodness. You have to write, or do any art (or anything else for that matter) because you love it and let the chips fall where they may.

    Like in Mr. Penick’s story, the student must show the teacher they are ready to learn before the teacher has a reason to commit time and energy to any project.

    Dr. B

  7. julius Says:

    Another great story and advice in life that should be taken. Thank you Dr. B.

    Oh, and Mrs. Chili, I admit I have taken a few teachers for granted. I’ve thanked a few, apologized years later to one but generally to not nearly as many as I should have, and even said a few words about others that I shouldn’t have. So to you, thank you for helping to shape and mold our minds into persons who can think and help in society and in other’s lives.

  8. drtombibey Says:


    West Virgina would be mad at me for suggesting it, but somehow we need to get you to N.C. when you graduate. I like the way you think.

    Dr. B

  9. Billy Says:

    Great post.

    Julius, I ain’t done many good things in my life that I set back and am real proud of. but three times I took the time to write teachers and let them know how important they were to me, and I appreciated it.

    The responses I got were amazing. It is never too late to say thank-you to someone who helped you along the road.

  10. drtombibey Says:


    Man that is a great idea. I am off today and it is a slow drizzle, so I am inside all day. I ought to drop a few teachers a note, and my agent too. That poor man has truly suffered to bring me along as a writer.

    Dr. B

  11. The weird thing is that I would imagine that these reps get training to do what they do. How can it be that in their training they’re not told that doctors have a pretty tough gig that takes a bit of time to understand?! I mean, do the drug companies think doctors CAN put things in a nutshell? I find this so weird, it seems like such an infuriating approach to need to deal with…

  12. danny fulks Says:

    Ben Hogan and Sam Snead after a round of golf: “What did Sam say while you played?” “You’re away,” that was it.

  13. drtombibey Says:

    ms slightly,

    They get training, but Madison Avenue and Main Street seem to have two entirely different agendas.

    I am sure the number one agenda for these big companies is profit. Mine is people. (It shows in my bottom line, too!)

    Dr. B

  14. drtombibey Says:

    Dr Fulks,

    Hogan was a man of few words, but had great focus and concentration. I believe you are like me and have spent some time around golf as well as bluegrass.

    Dr. B

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