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Let's Not Forget Doctors Are Humans, Too

Elaine Wiley

Remember when you were a kid and your teacher seemed like this completely mysterious person? It seemed weird the moment you realized they were married or had children — especially if those children went to your school.

Then the day came when you spotted your teacher out in public. You tugged on your parent’s shirt sleeve and said, “There is Mrs. Green.” Your mom or dad looked at you and said, “Would you like to go say, ‘Hi’?”  And at that moment you didn’t know if it was OK to talk to your teacher outside of the classroom because you never knew your teacher left the classroom. You really thought he or she lived there. You were certain there was a bed in the closet… like one of those cool Murphy beds or something.

Now, imagine being an adult with chronic illness and seeing your doctor at Starbucks.

OK, so as we get older we realize there are many different professions. And you realize a career is only part of a person because you know firsthand your own career or job is only one part of your life. But somehow that concept gets lost when it comes to the medical world. When we have an appointment with a physician and they come in wearing their white coat, we are always there to talk about ourselves; but do you stop to think of their life beyond the white coat they wear? Think about it, how much do you know about your doctor beyond his or her specialty?

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So, I heard a complaint in the patient community recently. “My doctor has often been resetting my appointments.” In this particular incident, the doctor didn’t have a history of resetting often until recent months. While some members of our community told the person to find a new doctor, I wanted to step back to look at the larger picture. This is a specialist who built a relationship with a patient, did not have a history of resetting until recent months and was giving good care per the patient’s own report. Why would the patient find a new doctor? It sounded to me like the relationship built between patient and physician was a special one.

We sometimes forget that our doctors are humans, too. They have a life outside of the little room in which we meet them. They have other coats they wear besides the white one we see them in month after month. They have issues in their personal life, just like we all do. Maybe they have to reschedule because they are caring for a sick parent, sick spouse, sick child or, worse yet, maybe they are grieving the loss of a loved one. And, what happens if a doctor gets sick? Wouldn’t they need to take intermittent time to take care of themselves or meet with their own medical team?

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I’m here to remind you, doctors are people just like us. They have families, hobbies, they worry like we do, they commute to work, they get sick and they do drink Starbucks. Sometimes it’s hard to look beyond the white coat. It is sometimes hard to realize our doctors may have a bad day at work. When your doctor walks into your appointment and they seem a little frazzled, do you ever think about the patient they saw just before you? Did they just have to tell someone they had cancer or another chronic illness, or that their child had cancer or a chronic illness? Did they lose a patient that day? Think about it, most of us are sick with something from which we will not get better. That is also a stark reality for the doctors caring for us. I’ve been the patient that has come in with an emergency and I have been the patient that received a terminal diagnosis. I’m sorry for the patients who have followed my appointments on those days because my time with our doctor did take a little longer which probably made him late to your appointment.

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So, before we jump to conclusions when our doctors reschedule, are running late or don’t answer our phone calls or e-mails quickly, let’s remember maybe they are taking care of their personal matters so they can take care of us. Let’s not forget to say thank you and please. Every person likes to hear thank you when they go out of their way, even if they are paid to do it. Let’s try to think of our physicians beyond the white coat they wear and the little room we meet them in.

So, if you bump into your doctor at Starbucks, don’t be afraid to say hello and find out what their favorite drink is.

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