Sunday, January 11, 2009

With assistants like these...

I usually avoid Russian businesses if I can help it. That goes first and foremost for doctors who started practicing back "at home". It is not because I think that Russian doctors are inferior (sometimes they are) in their knowledge and skill. Mostly, it is because of their bedside manner and overall customer service. For a myriad of reasons, political, economical, social and cultural, the concept of customer satisfaction in USSR was pretty much nonexistent and customer service largely depended on the character and upbringing of the service provider. Once these people moved to the US, one would think that wanting their business to succeed would give them enough motivation to change their ways. For many business owners it is so, and for just as many it isn't.

Well, we made one exception in the "avoid Russians like a plague" rule when we chose a Russian pediatrician for our kids. We really like her, and she was highly recommended: she is a good doctor, kids like her, our views on antibiotics and vaccinations generally agree, and she is a very, very polite and nice. Obviously, her office is staffed with Russian receptionists because many of her patients' parents tend to be from Russia. I have heard complaints about them from my friends, but never experienced anything truly negative myself. Most of the time, they were nice to me and my kids. Well, until last week.

SubHub had to take DD for a check up, and the doctor had asked to check DD's vision. The assistant put DD in front of a table with letters, and asked her to name them. DD knows alphabet, but gets letters confused. In addition, for unknown to me reasons, yeshivas start teaching kids Hebrew alphabet ahead of English, so even though DD is absorbed in learning the alphabet, it is not English alphabet that she learns. The assistant administering this test remarked to my husband, "Shame on you. The girl is four years old and doesn't know the alphabet!"

What can I say, this assistant was lucky it wasn't me there with my daughter. While generally I try avoiding conflict, some things deserve an immediate response. The comment was definitely completely inappropriate and rude. Multiply that by the fact that a certain percentage of kids have developmental delays, and this receptionist could have offended a parent of a child incapable of recognizing letters for reasons other than parental laziness and neglect. (I am not even going to go into the whole topic of when children should start learning alphabet etc. or whether a 4-year old is developmentally disabled if she cannot memorize letters. )

I was and still am pretty irate about the whole thing and even thought of calling the doctor herself and complaining. But this receptionist has worked there for years, her manners, comments and all. I doubt anything would come out of my complaint. My only decision here is whether this incident requires changing doctors or not. I am thinking not yet, but it's strike one...


  1. As you already know, I waited until strike 3 in my most recent Russian provider debacle. But in my case, the only one being exposed to the inappropriate behaviour/rudeness was yours truly. If your children are being exposed, that's a different story, in my opinion. Because even if she didn't fully understand what was transpiring, your daughter probably picked up on the negativity. So I wouldn't vote for waiting until strike 3, unless you can be absolutely certain that your children will not have to interact with the PA again.

  2. You will be my hero if you speak to the Doctor about this incident. Though you will not accomplish getting the assistant fired, perhaps the Doctor will think it wise to brush up on the office etiquette with her staff, which might save you and other parents further irritation.

  3. Unfortunately, DD WILL have to interact with this woman again. then you have to remember we are Russian too, so we are a bit thicker skinned than the average Westerner to these comments, and I think our offspring too. But something to think about.

    Sofia, I am SOOO with you on reasons to complain to the doctor. Completely agree, totally. But my damaged by growing up in the communist country psyche is not going to go along with this, for oddest reasons. And something tells me those are the same reasons why you never complained either.

  4. Which doctor is it?
    We went once to the doctor on J and, I think, 17th and never went there again.
    The general feeling was "medicaid pays me for a minute of my time, time's up, get lost".
    We're now going to Oded Preis on Kings Highway and 12th and he's great with kids.

  5. No, this doctor is nothing like this. She really is very nice. I never came to her with Medicaid, but know many people who did. It's really her staff, and even then I never had a run in with them until now.

  6. SubWife - that was the rudest thing ever. Most kids don't even start kindergarden until 5. Who does that receptionist think she is?

    I did not know Russian doctors don't have bedside manners. I do know that many tend to be women though.

  7. Hmm, I don't know about the whole women thing. I did not notice this.

    And again, I don't want to deprive Russian doctors of parnassah. There definitely are exceptions to this rule, which any way only applies to those who were raised and educated "there". However, I do find that there are certain patterns, and even if the doctor is extremely nice, their staff happens to be of the olden Russian mentality that should've been left at the airport.

  8. LOl! I heard that culturally (Asian andRussain) medicine is considered a female type of occupation.

    Where I live, there are very few female doctors, but when I visited my cousin in sheepshead bay I was surprised by how many women I noticed who had a practice.

  9. A ex-pat Russian comedian (Yaakov somebody?) joked about how Russians just had no concept of customer service. He told a story of being in a Russian restaurant and the waitress told him, upfront, "If you don't tip me really well, I won't give you good service." As he said, she was subtle as a meat axe.

  10. SC: LOL. Did she ask for the tip upfront, I wonder? Tipping is not a very Russian concept. Well, come to think of it, subtlety is not that common either.


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