Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who, Me?

Ten months into my intern year and I have gotten used to a lot of things: the labor room, the operating room, the wards, the intensive care unit. I’ve gotten to know both birth and death. I’ve been covered in probably every bodily fluid imaginable. To top it off, I’ve become BFFs with the vagina.  

What I still haven’t quite gotten used to is being called “Doctor”.

The issue doesn't come up with my patients. In fact, looking as young as I do, I’ve had to get over that one pretty darn fast. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “Aren’t you kind of young to be a doctor?” Then there are those split seconds after I introduce myself as Doctor when patients quickly glance down at my ID badge to make sure it really does say MD. I often feel like shouting "No, I didn't buy this white coat at the costume store! It has my name on it and everything!"

It is with hospital staff that being addressed as “Doctor” makes me feel like I'm playing dress-up. Sure I went to medical school. Sure I learned about the pathophysiology of the human body and the pharmacokinetics of drugs we use. But textbook learning doesn’t hold a candle to the years of experience in patient care that the nurses and OR staff have. In fact, I’ve learned just as much about operating from the scrub techs as I have from my attendings. I’ve learned just as much about patient care from the nurses as I have from my senior residents and fellows. The first issue I have is that the title implies that I know more than them. And frankly, I still rely on them way too much to believe that I do. The second issue is the age difference. Many of these people, from the housekeeping staff to pharmacists, are my parent's and grandparent's age. Maybe it's the Asian persuasion in me, but I feel like if any one is going to be addressed with a title of respect, it should be them.

Who you calling Doctor?
A Scenario: The OR. A scrub tech who has 20 years of experience regularly gives me advice on how to improve my surgical skills. She knows the steps of each surgery down to a T. She hands me the instruments I need before I even ask for them, saving me the embarrassment of revealing I can’t remember the name of the instrument that comes next. Is it Metzenbaum scissors? Or curved Mayos?  I call her by her first name. She calls me Doctor. Trying to buck the system, I tell her “You know you can call me by my first name”. “I can’t do that,” she replies. “I’m old school”. I sigh. Back to square one.

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