Last month, while working an urgent care shift, I caught a bug from one of my patients which progressed very quickly from a viral upper respiratory illness to a bacterial infection. Because I was so congested, the infection also seeded in my upper airways, and I developed bronchitis. Whenever bronchitis sets in, I am in for a world of hurt, because the coughing jags are so violent that I almost pass out from them since I can’t get a breath in.
In an effort to keep social media world happy, I posted my health status just so people would know why I sort of backed off from social interaction during that time. I felt horrible, and my voice was reduced to a strange, congested baritone mumble.
What irritated me was that several people jumped onto social media with health advice. I understand that people were concerned and trying to be helpful. However, there were two facts which kept floating through my head, and which left me scratching my head over how people thought it was appropriate to post advice.
FACT #1: I never asked for any advice from anyone. I was merely posting facts about my condition.
FACT #2: I am a board-certified family practice physician who works regularly in the urgent care setting. Don’t you think I would KNOW how to take care of myself? Why would anyone offer unsolicited health advice to a physician?
I couldn’t help but be bothered by the influx of posts suggesting things like, “drink tea with honey”, or “take zinc”. As an urgent care doctor, I am just as likely to give general, common sense advice about upper respiratory infections as I am to give prescriptions for medications and order in-office nebulizer treatments. I know all about zinc, tea with honey, vitamin C, salt water gargles, etc.
Besides, I ended up needing a course of antibiotics, two prescription inhalers, two prescription cough medications, and three over-the-counter decongestants. No amount of tea with honey, zinc, or salt gargles would have fought off the infection and reactive bronchitis I had developed. One person on Facebook hounded me via Messenger, and when I said I couldn’t chat, sent me a bizarre set of instructions for a concoction which included red wine. I became irritated and berated him for giving me health advice, whereupon he took the opportunity to insult me for no good reason. His disrespect was so blatant that I blocked him. I don’t need that kind of hostility in my life.
Sorry, but I think it is presumptuous and insulting to attempt to give health advice to doctors. In the age of Google, so many people fall under the assumption that they are suddenly experts when it comes to just about everything. Don’t trust everything you read on Google!
When I really think about it, I doubt that people would give automotive advice to an auto mechanic, or financial advice to their CPA’s. So why insult someone with 7 years of medical training and 14 years of experience as a practicing physician?
I believe I have made my point.
As a fully licensed, board-certified physician, I have written my share of prescriptions over the years for medications, imaging studies, etc. I recognize that it is an incredible honor and privilege to be able to write scripts, and I never take advantage of it. However, there are people out there who think nothing of asking me to write prescriptions for them, simply because I am a fully credentialed physician conveniently standing there in front of them. What is especially irritating is when people dare to ask me to conduct curbside consultations or write prescriptions for their family members or loved ones who not only aren’t there with them to be examined, but who are complete strangers to me. Tell me, how in the world am I supposed to conduct a medical evaluation on a complete stranger, sight unseen? These same individuals also tend to get offended when I kindly tell them that their loved one needs to be seen in person by a qualified medical professional who can assess their condition and administer the appropriate treatment.
So if you are the kind of person who is in the habit of asking doctors to do similar favors for you or your family, please understand that your requests are unreasonable and inappropriate. If your husband, sister, son, cousin, or best friend needs medical attention, do the responsible thing and either tell that person to go see a doctor, or take that person to the doctor.
As a physician, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of studying every part of the human body, to the most minute detail. I have hovered over cadavers which were fileted and displayed for they eyes of inquisitive medical students, and scrubbed in on colon resections, open heart surgery, neurosurgery, cataract removal, etc. During my first month of internship as a newly minted physician, I massaged a dying heart with my gloved hands (no, the patient didn’t survive). I have also delivered over 40 infants via vaginal and Cesarean methods, and have pronounced the demise of patients in the wards. In fact, there are many stories I have collected over the years, some incredibly sad, some disgusting, some frightening, and some infuriating, but all true, and all part of my experience as a doctor.
I knew full well that by signing up for an education in medicine, I would be subjected to disgusting, morbid, frightening things, and that I would face mortality on a regular basis. However, after several years of working in family practice, I began to notice that I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that I examined orifices of every kind on a very regular basis. Whether it was a nostril, a mouth, an ear canal, an anus, a urethral meatus (layman’s term pee-hole), or vagina I had to examine, I was never thrilled about it, and the orifices below the belt were certainly much more bothersome to address. My intense dislike of such examinations, combined with the tedium of primary care and the low insurance reimbursement for services and procedures provided, caused me to retreat from primary care and focus more on the areas I had more interest in, namely, physical medicine, cosmetic dermatology, and anti-aging medicine, all of which are much cleaner and which do not require me to conduct examinations on private parts.
Another feature of primary care which made me cringe was the intense demand on a practitioner’s time. The only time it ever seemed reasonable for me to literally lose sleep night after night as a physician was when I was in training. At this point, there is no way you could convince me that such a thing is healthy, and I refuse to sign up for that. I won’t give up weekends to take on three stacked 12-hour work shifts, and I will not give up the few holidays I celebrate (Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day) in order to work. As it is, I give up other major holidays to work, but since the work I perform on those holidays is in bodybuilding and fitness, I don’t mind it at all.
I love being a physician, and I find it incredibly rewarding to make a positive impact on my patients. However, I will not sacrifice balance in my life, or the freedom to pursue my other interests, in order to prove to society what a good physician I am. I don’t believe for a second that running oneself into the ground working as a physician ever sends a positive message to others. I don’t ever want to be the kind of doctor who is saddled with so many chart notes to write that an entire weekend is devoted to completing them. Not for me.
Lasty, I think it’s so strange that society still assumes that doctors are supposed to give their time and knowledge at a moment’s notice, on demand, yet I don’t see those same demands placed on people in other industries. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a brief conversation with a complete stranger, who dares to ask me a medical question as soon as my profession is revealed. I swear, one of these days I am going to get a t-shirt made that says, “THE DOCTOR IS OFF-DUTY RIGHT NOW…NO MEDICAL QUESTIONS PLEASE”!
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.
Many thanks to Dr. Brandy Segura for writing this!
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