Dr Gray: Why us doctors hate hospital security

Doctor Gray cartoon A
In a new series on The Daily Vox, Dr Thomas Gray*, a doctor inside an unnamed hospital in South Africa, takes us inside the weird and wonderful world of public health. The stereotypes – of morose wards, deadly doctors and needy nurses – are true, he says. Other than that, there is nothing really to panic about.

Pop culture is unsurprisingly littered with touching eulogies about life and death in the public health sector. Valiant tales of legendary medical doctors who go beyond the call of duty actually exist. But there is a dark side to this nobility – if you don’t reflect the same zeal in saving people as a mad-dog doctor, then you are looked upon with contempt. Case in point: hospital security. DR THOMAS GRAY explains.

Talk about dedication. A doctor I know totaled his car on the way to work, smashed his face in the process, but still pitched up to work on time to continue his day with Band-Aids plastered to his nose. Yes, Band-Aids.

His superior grudgingly offered him the day off. Heroically, he refused. Yes, next time you want a doctors’ note for waking up on the wrong side of the bed, think about my friend who came to work with plasters on his face.

I swear, there are people in this sector who feel they must fulfill a higher purpose (usually involving dry lumps of Pronutro while driving to work at 6am).

It is no wonder then that those who don’t share such zeal “to serve” are looked up with disdain. Case in point: hospital security.

Mention these creatures to any doctor and you can expect a barrage of unrefined language.

Let’s briefly explore the roots of such condescension.

Rumour has it that once upon a time a doctor – or at least a person claiming to be one – was caught trying to sneak some liquor onto hospital premises. The matter was referred to management (another group of creatures doctors look upon with much scorn). At the same time, it also came to the attention of management, that some doctors were stealing hospital supplies for their own private practices.

Using their higher intellect and superior reasoning skills, management’s solution was to implement a plan to search the boot of every health professional entering or leaving the hospital premises. (Visitors, oddly were exempt, because what would visitors steal from a hospital, right?)

Some facilities went as far as to require each staffer to get out of the vehicle, and to personally open and close the darned boot each time.

Now, picture the daily chaos and frustration that occurred every morning and afternoon at the hospital entrances once this plan was in place.

For the most part this exercise is purely perfunctory; guards glance at the contents of the boot, issue a thumbs up, and you can be on your way. The rest of the vehicle is left completely untouched and uninspected because, as we know, thieves almost always keep stolen stuff in the boot.

On other occasions, guards open and close the boot while in the middle of a conversation; without even taking a proper look.

I once asked a security guard why they search our car boots. His reply, infuriating – though rather classy I must admit – was: ”To check if you people are stealing things like CT scanners.”

Let me explain: a CT scanner is used to check for medical ailments by making 3D visuals out of an object. It doesn’t fit in a pocket, let alone a car boot, because it weighs about 2,000kg. A CT scanner in my boot? Obviously, these gents had no idea what they were looking for, and here is the proof:

One fine day, about 20 computers were stolen from one of the clinical departments at a major regional hospital in Gauteng. Retrospective CCTV footage caught the moment the goods were being transported off the premises by a hospital cleaner in the canopy of his Isuzu bakkie. Unfortunately for him, his bakkie broke down at the front gate. Clueless, albeit helpful, security personnel helped jumpstart the vehicle and got the rogue back on his way out of the premises.

At the same time, they sometimes know exactly how to needle us.

A young intern doctor was once stopped at the gates, and after a search, bundled into a security van and taken down to the local police station to be charged for stealing hospital supplies. Her head of department had to be called to bail her out. Her offense? They found a hospital needle in her pocket.

Dr Thomas Gray (*not his real name) is a doctor living (and slowly dying) inside a public hospital. He’s here to tell us what’s happening inside our hospitals. He would share his name with you, but then he’d have to kill you, and that would be unethical.
– Featured illustration: By Nathi Ngubane. 



  1. Why are doctors always complaining? Most only study it because they don’t know what else to do with their good grads.

    • Most? Have you done an extensive quantitative study in that regard? Care to direct us to the published results? People routinely complain about their various jobs for a variety of reasons…I don’t think it’s any more prevalent within the medical profession

    • Shame, poor u. U must be very grumpy that u didn’t get good grades. Well, I’m a dr and I studied medicine because I love it. My patients are so happy with my services and I don’t remember any security protecting anyone. Drs are killed inside hospital premises, nurses are raped inside hospital premises, babies are stolen in hospital premises, patients are killed inside hospital premises. Next time you throw in a less informed comment, just read the news first. How are these poor security guys supposed to protect anyone when they don’t even carry a stick. It shows that u have never been to a public hospital. All the author is trying to raise is that the security is there for the wrong reasons. I have been searched until my boot broke!!! Thank God I now use a tag to access my work place. In Groote Schuur, I baby was stolen with all the CCCTV cameras recently. If u were only informed on daily issues, u wouldn’t be throwing hate speech on doctors.

  2. So the next time one of these guards who makes less in a month than you do in a day places themselves in harms way to protect you or some other ungrateful pompous undeserving idiot from an incident that you likely started or made worse through your condescending attitude towards others, please feel free to thank them for their service.

    • Have you visited or worked in a large public hospital recently? Nice that you encountered efficient, effective security staff, as opposed to some other hospitals where safety&security incidents occur despite those who are there placing themselves in harms way. Think you missed the point a bit about this being a commentary about the inept administrative/management staff who create these ineffectual, inefficient systems, the boot checking being an example. Why is the amount of money anyone earns at all relevant to this particular issue (not that the hyperbolic remark you made is at all accurate)?

    • next time one of these doctors save you from lurgy (sudden rush of shit to the brain) which you obviously suffer from – please feel free to thank a doctor for their assistance.

    • I am a doctor and was shot at whilst on call. As soon as ” security” heard the shots they ran. I HAD TO HIDE and PHONE THE LOCAL POLICE!

        • Funny, If your an unarmed security guard are you going to run in the direction of gunfire? Sorry, not for sub par pay and benefits, to help save lives of people who clearly don’t give a shit about you. Its amazing how security becomes important to a DR. at the time when psychiatric patient begins to square up with them. They cant yell for security fast enough.

  3. The disappearance of ct scan seems to be universal worry amongst the security in hospital gates. I have been told besides ct scans they look for u/s machines and computer cables. The absurdity of this lies in the fact that i personally got searched when i walked out of the gate with my little crossover bag and on asking what they were looking for i was told computer cables. The bag can barely hold a pen and my phone.
    However, come rain or shine the job description of the guard is to open and close boot and god forbid us that they dont get a chance to slam that boot…
    .i have personally driven out of my hospital to another with flexible nasolaryngoscope and light source and have had just to open the boot and close it. It wasnt u/s machine so they were not bothered… makes me laugh.

  4. Must admit I am with Dr Gray on this one. Very few people on the planet that can upset my equilibrium the way that hospital security can! I once asked what they are looking for, the anwer that I was offered: “my secret”. I know I shouldnt get all revved up, these people are merely earning a living, but it feels like harassment, and it has a face…

  5. I’m also a doctor working in public hospitals, and while I do agree with the general futility of what security personnel are required to do (searching my boot for, I don’t know, babies or whatever while I can leave the premesis wearing hospital scrubs), I like them.

    In my experience, hospital security members are often (yes, not always, but often) the one place where I can count on getting a friendly smile or wave during the day, a quick pleasantry at night (yoh it’s so cold tonight, doc! Shame why must you walk in the rain?), recognition at the gate upon arriving at work, really pleasant people doing a boring job in service of other people who just get all pissed off at them. Not that I haven’t had my share of unreasonable experiences, of course (doctors are hardly any better in that respect) but really, just a well placed smile or polite interaction and security personnel will go out of their way to be helpful, friendly and protective.

    I’m just putting the thought out there … it’s a two way street, and I’m sure they spend just as much time complaining (justly) about us as we do about them.


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