The more experience I get with patients, the more parallels I see between doctors...and religious clergy.
1. Patients are often afraid that their doctor will judge their bad habits.
Probably one out of three patients makes some snarky comment when I ask them to step on the scale in clinic. "Oh, I've been bad this week!" or "Can we skip this part?" or "It's my shoes, these shoes are soooo heavy!". Similarly, when I ask patients if they smoke, or how much alcohol they drink, I'm met with a series of comments. "Only when I'm stressed" or "Sometimes I need a break for myself" or "You have to have a little fun!".
I know many of them are afraid, as I ask my questions and jot down a note occasionally, that I am forming judgments about them and their lifestyle habits. My job is to find out everything I can about their health and habits so that we can work together to make that patient the healthiest individual possible. I don't spend time judging people; most of us are guilty of the same bad habits, so it's hard to point fingers at others who overeat or overdrink.
But I can't blame them. It makes me remember Confession Day in my Catholic elementary school. I was so terrified that the priest would remember me and my sins when he saw me walking in the hall the next day at school. Even though the head priest told us that he was only a "conduit to the Lord" for our sins to be heard, I had a hard time believing they didn't get together later at the rectory to talk about all of us :)
2. Patients tell their doctors things they don't tell their friends, family, or even spouses.
While I myself didn't have any salacious tidbits to impart to my priest at age 10, nor would I be honest enough to do so if I went to confession these days, many of my patients share very intimate and sometimes shocking details of their lives with me. This to me is especially strange, since I am not functioning as anyone's personal physician. I am merely the medical student rotating through that clinic or hospital service for 2 months maximum; I find it hard to believe that anyone could trust me enough or feel comfortable enough with me to share some of the things they do. Things about husbands' affairs, or their sexual habits, or their drug and alcohol abuse. Stories about reforming their lives after years of abusing themselves and their children.
Sometimes when I am listening to patients, it feels like I have 2 separate brains. One brain is thinking about what the patient is telling me, how it applies to their health, and what else I can possibly do to help them if I can (sometimes they just need a listener, and that's fine too). The other brain is busy going "Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap, I can't believe I'm hearing this" -- not in a judgmental way, but in utter disbelief that I am privvy to such secrets. More than once I've left a patient's room feeling more like their priest than their doctor.
3. We both wear costumes to work.
Maybe priests and other clergy have more costume-y wardrobes for work, but doctors come in a close second. Surgeons roam around in what basically amount to pajamas with pockets all day. The pediatricians all have little stuffed animals attached to their (teeny tiny) stethoscopes, or wear scrubs with little cartoons on them, pockets bulging with stickers and lollipops. The rest of us wear these ridiculous white coats with all manner of papers, instruments and pocket manuals jammed into the myriad pockets. I subject my coat to a hot wash with bleach every week, but still the cuffs look a little dingy and that bloodstain from trauma surgery refuses to budge. I wonder who the hell came up with white as the color for our coats?