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I'm a pediatrician and, sorry, but you're just a jerk! (about circumcision)

February 19, 2017


I am a pediatrician with years of experience and I've performed countless neonatal circumcisions. When I use social media, I don't like all the misinformation I see about things that are important to pediatricians. Neonatal circumcision is one of the most misinformation-filled topics of discussion out there. Why shouldn't I try to get a balanced message out to parents on the risks and benefits involved with the neonatal circumcisions that I've performed for years? To put it plainly: I didn't sign up to deal with a bunch of jerks!

I'm pretty sure I can speak for most pediatricians and say "We don't like jerks!" I know no one really likes nasty behavior, but maybe people don't realize why pediatricians are different from a lot of physicians or why pediatricians are generally pretty hostility-avoidant. I'll elaborate on that before more talk of pediatrician encounters with anti-circumcision fanatics (intactivists).

Most pediatricians choose their field of medicine because they love babies and kids! Amazingly some of us even like teens (but that's a different story and usually takes an even more unusual breed of physician). Your pediatrician is not usually very concerned about keeping up a stuffy doctor-like professional demeanor. It's way more important to find cool, often fun, relatively low-stress ways to provide good health care for kids! We're not usually the physician shouting at the top of our lungs at a patient (parent), employee, or colleague. If we were more concerned about our bank accounts than babies and kids, we'd probably pick a different field of medicine. If you treat adults you are almost always reimbursed better for your services! Obviously, there are pressures on our healthcare system that drive many pediatricians into busy practices where some of the fun things we like about our job get pushed to the side. Most of us don't want it that way! I think most of us remain pretty darn true to our kid-friendly goals, even when we are designing strategies for things are that not necessarily much fun for kids and parents… or for us pediatricians. Cue the teddy-bears, please!

What pediatricians usually don't like are all the things that go along with practicing medicine in the "adult world." Like the personalities of "adult-oriented" healthcare providers or the often depressing nature of "adult" or "geriatric" types of chronic diseases. We especially don't much like the more "mature" patterns of childish behavior doctors get from grown-ups. Most pediatricians are going to have zero tolerance for that in a setting where we need to take care of children!

So getting back to circumcision: how do pediatricians take it when out-of-the-blue someone calls us a "child molester" online? ...for no other reason than we used the "c" word somewhere on Facebook? What's it like when we are accused of "sexual assault" after a mom rants about a perceived "forced retraction" of little baby Johnny's foreskin in our office?

We are floored!...

Um... could someone please pass the smelling-salts?

Imagine waking up to your practice's Facebook page after talking publicly about circumcision. What goes through your baby-friendly pediatric mind?

What was that? OMG! They said I'm a "rapist!" That I performed a "sexual assault" in my office! What the heck? Someone just made a website saying I "mutilate children for profit" and they posted my office address and phone number! My online reviews are all 1 star now…by people I don't even know! Someone just said I need to be "strapped down and tortured" and that they will do WHAT to me in a "dark alley when least expected?" How can they say that?

What is wrong with these people?!!!

Unfortunately, I've had all those thoughts! It's personal for me and many other pediatricians, obstetricians, and other docs online. It seems like there is a new unsuspecting, unprepared, and well-meaning physician harassed every day. We at are monitoring Facebook for it, and even with a team of volunteers, it's kind of hard to keep up. So, yeah, we really don't like the bullying of pediatricians and other physicians who practice circumcision! We also hate all the attacks accusing docs of malpractice or worse when it comes to foreskin.

There are way too many jerks out there willing to demonize anyone involved with neonatal circumcision! Sadly, the word "jerk" is not always the most accurate description. It's pretty clear that a lot of these really fanatical people suffer from mental illness. Their online bubble seems to feed their obsession with "intactivism" and it's not healthy... for anyone! I'll still go on calling them "jerks" because that's usually about as hostile as this pediatrician is willing to get online.


What can pediatricians, obstetricians, urologists, or family docs do about this?

We recommend a few things that apply to non-physicians as well.

The first is be very careful with social media! If you have a personal account make your posts, friends list, and everything/everyone you care about visible to "Friends Only." Be careful on personal accounts of friend requests from people you do not know, or people who seem to have no friends, posts, or real photos as their profile picture. If you are getting attacked online, these things are critical because: All your personal information and photos that are visible to the public will be considered fair game to use in attacks!

We know physicians usually can stand up for themselves in an argument, but the second most important point we can make is: Engaging with intactivists is never a good idea! You, your family, and your practice/business can all be inconvenienced or worse! There seems to be a rabid horde of anti-circumcision fanatics with nothing better to do than try to make a physician's (or parent's) life miserable. Anything you say will be distorted to make you look bad and you will definitely fan the flames with any dialogue... more crazy people will join in! Also, be aware: any private messages with these people ARE NOT PRIVATE! They will be shared!

The third thing I'll say, as a pediatrician, is to let your hospital, clinic, practice manager, and/or staff know you are being attacked over circumcision. These fanatics often like to make phone calls or send private messages to hospital administrators, receptionists, employers, friends, and relatives. It is better to be proactive.

Lastly, block and report inappropriate or harassing people and activities on social media. Block people leaving inappropriate reviews. Block intactivists who are trying to engage in "private" conversations. It is a flawed defense that they can get around, but it definitely makes it a bit less convenient for them to keep things going. Reporting harassment works sometimes. You can recruit friends, family, and employees to help with it as well.

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