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There is tremendous responsibility in being a physician, and I take it very seriously. Any time I walk into a medical facility and see patients, I know that the patients and staff are all counting on me to assess patients fully, make proper diagnoses, and provide appropriate treatments. Basically, I know that I MUST make the right decisions at all times and be at the top of my game. Talk about pressure! Nevertheless, the thrill of solving a problem is so rewarding that it quickly eradicates any feelings of anxiety.
I just read Atul Gawande’s excellent book, Being Mortal, and I love this passage in which he very aptly describes the satisfaction which can come from being a physician:
“You become a doctor for what you imagine to be the satisfaction of the work, and that turns out to be the satisfaction of competence. It is a deep satisfaction very much like the one that a carpenter experiences in restoring a fragile antique chest or that a science teacher experiences in bringing a fifth grader to that sudden, mind-shifting recognition of what atoms are. It comes partly from being helpful to others. But it also comes from being technically skilled and able to solve difficult, intricate problems. Your competence gives you a secure sense of identity. For a clinician, therefore, nothing is more threatening to who you think you are than a patient with problem you cannot solve.”
The truth is that pretty much every physician has come across a case which he or she could not solve, one which necessitated a discussion with a specialist, or a lengthy literature review to aid in diagnosing the zebra who walked into the office that day. Physicians are human, fallible, and though they usually have the answers to the puzzles which are constantly presented to them, they may find themselves stumped every now and then, and that is a dreadful feeling.
It is an honor to serve humankind as a problem-solver, and I will always strive to keep my clinical acumen as sharp as possible in order to provide the best medical care.
One of the biggest grievances I have as a physician is the fact that people assume that I am on call all the time for every random medical question. People will ask me questions at the gym, the grocery store, and via email. Many people have even contacted me on Facebook with detailed medical questions which they expect me to answer, and some will even cop an attitude when I very nicely tell them that I cannot address their question via Facebook message. No other profession deals with the same amount of queries. Would you ask your tax person a detailed question via Facebook?
I have even gotten texts in the middle of the night (thank goodness I turn my ringer off while I sleep) with medical questions. Sometimes the questions don’t even pertain to the person asking, but to a friend or relative. That is when I get annoyed, because it isn’t my responsibility to dole out free medical advice to everyone.
I realize that by putting my foot down and setting boundaries, I will cause some individuals to seek diagnoses on their own, which is also quite frustrating. They will go online and attempt to find a diagnosis, despite the fact that they have no medical expertise whatsoever. These are the people who infuriate doctors, because they will march into doctors’ offices and behave as if they have all the answers. This type of attitude is not only frustrating to medical professionals, it can be downright dangerous when the wrong diagnosis is made.
Please understand that I will not diagnose your niece’s boyfriend’s strange skin condition, even if you send me five images of the condition, taken at different angles and at different stages of the flareup. Such requests take unfair advantage of all of my schooling and post-doctoral training, which I have every right to charge for. As a matter of fact, it would be irresponsible of me to respond to such requests.
If the medical malady is of an urgent or emergent nature, then I suggest that you avail yourself of the appropriate service. Urgent care centers and emergency rooms exist for a reason. I am not a stand-alone urgent care center, nor am I a doctor on call 24/7. Please respect my time off.
For those of you who are physicians or surgeons, I welcome responses to this post.