A couple of days ago I noticed something. When people ask me where I work, I don’t usually introduce myself as a doctor. It was one thing, when buying a car, that I would off-handedly say, “I work at the hospital.” You are always told adding Dr to your name adds zeros to every purchase, buying a car, building a clinic, buying a house. Anyway, in purchasing, you just don’t do it.
However, this time it was different. I was eating dinner with my children at the Olive Garden, when the waiter asked what I did for a living.
I was wearing scrubs, so the question was initially, “So did you work all day.”
“So what do you do?”
It was not the waiters fault, he was perfectly hospitable, taking care that our table had drinks and attention that anyone would appreciate. We talked about the iPad 2, since I happened to have both children’s and mine with me. And if I thought it would be a good deal to buy one, and if we liked ours. All perfectly pleasant. It was only when he came over during a discussion with my oldest, as to why I could not donate blood at his school’s blood drive the next day. (Previous years, I have, but this year it was on a Wednesday, and most Wednesdays I barely have time for lunch much less time to drive 30 minutes to his school, donate blood, and return to work) So I pulled up my schedule on the iPad, and showed him how full it was. Still not overly impressed, he said, what about after work? At that point, I promised him, if by some miracle of miracles, I were to finish by 4 pm, I would donate blood. However, since I have yet to get out of the office by 530pm on a Wednesday in about 8 months, well it probably was not going to happen. And this is when the above conversation happened.
I don’t know why I stuttered. I am not really ashamed of what I do. Obviously I would not be blogging about it online if I were. But stutter I did, as I admitted that I was a physician. Admitted, is this what the once noble profession I dreamed of being as a child came too? Or maybe it was that I was caught off guard, since it was an early dinner due to having to leave work early in the afternoon to take my youngest to speech, and then kill time between therapy and a skate party. And maybe that I was worried I would have to explain.
I spend a lot of my day explaining things. Why I don’t take call, why I don’t go to the hospital regularly, why I have no desire to work in the ER, why I leave early on Tuesday and don’t see patients on Thursday. And maybe that was the reason. However, he did not ask for explanations, he actually was reassuring that my career was not equivalent to that of a drug dealer, even though some days, I think that is what I have become, at least in the eyes of some patients.
Maybe I spend too much time online, reading the terrible things people say about doctors, how they make too much money, they rush in and out of rooms too fast, they take too much time to get to their room, that they just don’t care.
I heard a joke once in training that the person who yells out first “Is there a doctor here?” is probably a physician themselves. And sometimes, I wonder if that is true. The days, weeks, months, years of fighting public perception as a money hungry individual willing to throw their patient under the bus for a dollar on one side, and the fighting for the dollars rightfully earned trying to provide the patient care that they deserve may have worn us down. The time spent fighting against liability claims and fear of lawsuits despite no wrong doing, maybe those have worn us down as a profession. The stories of physicians who have stopped to help someone on the side of the road and despite no wrong doing receiving a lawsuit for a bad outcome. Maybe that is why we no longer stand up and say I am a doctor. Or maybe, I just I don’t want to be chased through the grocery store to look at a mole.
And in my case, where my husband and I made the choice where he would take my call, so that one of us could be at home at night with our children, maybe I just didn’t want to explain one more time, why I don’t go to the hospital. It is not that I can’t, it was that I put my kids before my career. It is the years spent justifying why I don’t do shifts in the ER like my husband. It is the time spent alone, at night, wondering if I made the right choice. Did I do what was best for my patient? Did I make a difference for the better? Or what am I missing on that patient?
For the most part, I love my job. I like that I am in most of my patients’ lives. In many instances, after they get a recommendation from a specialist, they come back and ask me what I think they should do. Or if they could have a second opinion, not necessarily that they disagree with the first, but that it is a major decision and they would like to have another perspective. I don’t make as much in my clinic, as my husband makes doing his shifts in the ER. I see the reports as to doctors not choosing primary care residencies, and I understand. The money is not as good, and most of us graduate with a large amount of debt. And you have to spend a large amount of time fighting, fighting insurance companies, fighting for payments, and watching the general population equate your training with that of a midlevel. Even though you have twice as much training, 4 times as much debt, and way more liability. And then at the end of the day, you notice the pile of paperwork- not visit notes, but other paperwork. Prior authorizations, home health messages, home health certifications/re-certifications, various forms for patients regarding why they cannot work, disability questionnaires, and random notes that the patient wanted you to write for them yesterday. Add to that orders that the specialist decides that they want done, but don’t want to obtain the prior authorization themselves, despite having the pertinent data needed to get the test approved, and yet they don’t send it to you. So I understand why students are not choosing a career in primary care.
And maybe it is just a combination of all of those reasons that I don’t introduce myself as doctor out in public. At maybe, just maybe that is why I stutter when asked what I do for a living.