Ask for Dr. Nguyen

I’ve seen a lot of doctors in the past year, and I’ve noticed a pattern whenever I make an appointment at a new medical practice. If the practice has multiple doctors, they ask if I have a preference for who I want to see, and I usually say no preference and ask for the first available appointment. The first available appointment is always with the doctor who has the most difficult-to-pronounce name.

Among high-demand specialists, even within the same practice, there can be a huge difference in how long you have to wait to get an appointment as a new patient. I’ve called practices where the soonest available appointment with Dr. Richards is in a month and a half, while Dr. Nguyen is available next week.

It makes sense that when most patients call to make an appointment with a new doctor, they request one with a name they can pronounce, even if they know nothing about any of the doctors in the practice. If they were referred to a specific doctor, people are more likely to recommend a doctor whose name they can easily pronounce. There’s probably a positive feedback cycle that develops: if someone picks a name at random, they are more likely to choose one they can pronounce, and if they have a good experience with that doctor, they are more likely to write good Yelp reviews and recommend her to others. New patients who request an appointment with Dr. Jones may even think that the harder it is to get an appointment with him, the better he must be.

All this has been to my advantage. I don’t put much stock in Yelp reviews or patient recommendations when choosing a doctor, so I always find the soonest available one. And I’ve almost always had excellent experiences with them. In fact, my experiences with doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names have been a lot better than my experiences with doctors overall.

Maybe it’s because the doctors I’ve seen are more likely to be Asian women, who I usually feel more comfortable with– but not always. (I think name pronounceability is a better predictor of my experience with a doctor than race or gender.) Or maybe people with more interesting names have quirkier personalities that I have a better time communicating with. Or it might be that doctors with difficult-to-pronounce names are better because they’ve had to work harder to compensate for their name handicap. Or maybe I just like them because I also have a hard-to-pronounce last name.

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