DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am about to complete 14 years of medical training and graduate as a oncology physician. I am female, with a generally open, warm manner, and can usually handle a wide variety of social situations.
However, when I meet new people outside of work, and they ask what I do, I occasionally answer truthfully.
This too often results in unsolicited commentary that is at best embarrassing ("You're an angel! How do you do it? Isn't that SO SAD?"), and at worst a complete occasion-destroyer when people launch into their own, again unsolicited, health history, or the tragic history of a friend or family member. Or the conversation immediately devolves into a heated debate (between others) on the state of our health care system, or conspiracy theories about how "the cure is out there" but being kept from them.
I have tried answering less-than-truthfully ("I work in health care"), which can end in guessing games and draw out the conversation unnecessarily. How do I avoid being a cocktail party conversation killer?
GENTLE READER: Whatever is said about your profession, your response should be, "Well, it's the kind of job that makes you grateful to get away among friends and talk about something else."
Miss Manners trusts that you will say this with a smile. You can then turn to someone else and say, "I imagine you feel the same way about your work."
It doesn't matter what that person's job is, because nowadays people consider it a disgrace to admit that they are not stressed. So the conversation will go on from there.