Friday, 27 Mar 2020

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What Does Your Desk Say About You?

I’m a firm believer that your desk space is a window to your soul, if not your neuroses. 

This tested hypothesis stems from my time as a fellow. My first year fellow and colleague kept his desk meticulously sterile. It was so sparsely decorated and clean, he could be the poster child for minimalism. His desk reflected his personal traits of being orderly and disciplined. 

This was in drastic contrast to our program director, who had papers and books strewn about and multiple half-filled coffee cups surrounding his desk. His chair was typically found in the middle of the room with his white coat thrown about like a kindergartener’s art project. This colorful, chaotic desk was the sign of his classic extroverted and creative personality. 

Here are my observations from the natural habitats and home-base of rheumatologists.  

  • The recently-graduated fellow:  In the wilds of the desk jungle you will find several books from “Netter’s” to “Secret’s in Rheumatology.” These desks generally have a landscape of post-it notes (possibly a harbinger of under developed technology skills?) and all sorts of “cheat sheets” (e.g., ICD10 codes, ophthalmology abbreviations, the RheumaKnowledgy card).  A shiny, new “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” or some other inspirational quote/mug has a designated space reserved among the forest of print info. These are the perfect tools for practice building for the enthusiastic and energetic rheumatologist.  Of note, those newly minted diplomas sure do look great on walls.
  • The academic attending: These desks have extra hidden mugs, snacks for trainees, posters and models for teaching.  Extra storage space is needed to accommodate books and training materials. An “interesting case” file can be found in an easily accessible folder. These desks are usually bigger, more distinctive and often unusual, much like their owners who tend to be big ego-big thinkers committed to the development of young minds. (Does the size the size of the desk reflect the ego of the physician)?
  • The research attending: study protocols overwhelming the space are complemented by piles of as well as articles, monographs, and actual hard copies of journals across these desks.  In contrast, this desk can also adorned with a light settling of dust if the attending spends the majority of their time at the bench or turned to the CRT writing grants. They may even have a traditional surveyor style desk to ensure time and space for creative thought and discovery. The accompanying weirdness of a researcher may be exemplified by buried slide rule, dead/dying plants or a lava lamp.
  • The private practice attending: Much like the proverbial zebra, these desks may be difficult to truly classify. In my current habitat, I sit between two very different desks. To my right, is my “rheumatechologist.” He surrounds himself with tech gadgets and always has multiple windows open on multiple monitors – as if he/she is running the latest NASA mission.  He’s my go to for all difficult patient questions and always knows what to do when technology fails.  By contrast, my partner to my left is my quadruple threat sage rheumatologist/mom/researcher/purveyor of fine snacks and hilarious anecdotes.  She’s my go to for life’s questions, nuanced patient management and a good restaurant/book recommendation. Her desk is more varied; she has pictures of her beautiful family, study protocols, birthday reminders, and a reference sheet for important phone numbers.  I surround myself with two Zebra pens (self -proclaimed pen snob, here), my water bottle, business cards, little gifts from my patients, my orange theory fitness calendar, and a running “to do” list. 

All three of our desks are very different.   There seems to be an ample hand sanitizer, Kleenex, holiday left overs, memorable patient letters and entertainment tools (coloring books, toys, markers) for children who visit the office. 

The private practice desk can range from very messy to very neat, spatially opened or closed. There are variations of the theme of each desk are specific to each rheumatologist who inhabits it’s often bumpy, sometimes smooth, terrain.

The best part of all of these desks remains is the personalities and proclivities of the provider who occupies the seat. 

What does your desk look like and does it reflect your personality? Send us your picture and confessions at


The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

Rachel Tate, DO is in clinical practice at Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates of Palm Beach. Her areas of interest include patient advocacy, musculoskeletal ultrasound, pregnancy in connective tissue disease, and spondyloarthropathies.

Rheumatologists' Comments

The desk is sacred space; work environment is sacred; have wood showing on your desk; reduce clutter; use your desk as a focus of mindfulness. If you think I am sounding weird ask anyone who works with me about my office; I take off my shoes; I clean my work area; I am good to myself in this space and I am serious about this. Namaste Lenny
Anyone who has seen (most of you should have) any of Lennys videos from his office will know that sacred, pristine desktop belongs to a man of order, calmness and thought (sometimes great). I on the other hand shoot videos from my office that do not show my desktop as it lies under a burden of sins. My desktop (like so many others) is a futile attempt to organize the disordanization that invades my business and personal life daily. It serves as the battle ground for imporant cross table discussions, It reflects my multiple passions with a cacophony of inspirations, Tchotchkes, meaningful and uninterpretable studies/reports. Nevertheless, if its on my desk, I know where it lies and what priority it has. And I can boast of my desk as a recent report in Science suggests that a messy desk is a sign of genius ( They found that "Participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts. But their ideas were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges." I admire the bare woodtop of Calabrese (serene surroundings) but prefer the bustle of what is strewn across my desk (wood?)