Most are permanently malcontent, their disposition suggesting a recent series of disappointing bowel movements. The initial conversation may be polite, yet beneath the veneer of civility lurks only ugly suspicion; handshakes above the table and loaded guns below.
But there is another type, the type of appraiser who really wants to be your friend, and would pass you even if your portfolio was accidentally on purpose stained with insalubrious body fluids. In a Kafkaesque indulgence I shall call the appraiser K.
K peered suspiciously at the stains.
'It’s just coffee,' I said reassuringly.
'Might have spilt some, I was so nervous about this appraisal, you know,' I explained, yawning hugely, my traitorous body making a liar out of me.
'And your reflective learning?' K asked.
I passed over a few tatty sheets.
'Been working on this all year,' I lied blithely again (my years in general practice have made me quite accomplished at dissimulation). 'Trying to comprehend the importance of sympathy; did I say sympathy? I meant empathy, of course, sympathy is second rate stuff; empathy is the cat’s pyjamas.'
'This is very…unusual,' said K, looking over it. 'There is this bit… "Yeah, when you walk in the Valley of Shadow of Death, I’ll be right behind you." What does that mean?'
'It means when my patient is walking though the Valley of Shadow of Death, I’ll be right behind them,' I explained helpfully. 'It’s safer that way; if an alien suddenly bursts out of their chest, I won’t be in the firing line.'
There was a long silence as K struggled with the dissonant genres.
'And this,' K continued, '"To take arms against a sea of patients, And by opposing end them." That sounds curiously familiar to me.
'And "Patients are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get till you open them up".'
I wondered if K was cottoning on to my cunning plan, How to Make Reflective Learning Painless by copying a bunch of one-liners from The Big Book of Quotations. But there remains medicine’s Golden Rule; if you can’t baffle them with brilliance, boggle them with bullshit.
'I was interweaving my literary influences with my own experience,' I said, extemporising i.e. lying.
'Ah, now I understand,' said K.
'Thanks,' I said. 'That’s very empathetic of you.'
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell