Five Scary Things About Being a Doctor

October is here and it’s time for Halloween, scary movies, ghost, ghouls and goblins. Here are a few things that your doctor experiences that are way more terrifying than Jason or Freddy Krueger.

  1.  You can’t know everything.
    What if that person who is short of breath is actually having a heart attack? What if that innocent cough is actually a sign of lung cancer? What if that medicine I prescribed for my patient’s pain makes their stomach bleed? These are the types of things I worry about every day. As a doctor, you have an idea of what you think might be wrong. But you can’t be 100% sure. So you ask questions, run tests, pray and try to sort it out. It may seem like your doc is doing the most, but they’re just worried about you. Bear with them when they want you to get blood drawn, go for an x-ray or come back to the office. It’s not that they want to waste your time or collect another co-pay. They’re just trying to make sure they don’t miss something that will cause you to wake up dead.

2.  You have to move towards danger.
Being a doctor means being an essential employee. But it’s not just about going in on Columbus Day, Christmas or New Years’ Eve. The nurses will probably have a potluck to make you feel better about that. What I’m talking about is natural disasters. Hurricane? You’re going in. Blizzard? You’re going in. Mandatory evacuation? Not for physicians. On those days that no human being should be outside, your doctor is probably on their way to the office or hospital. No matter how terrifying the weather, they have to be in place. As one of my colleagues used to say, “These patients aren’t going to see themselves”.

3.  Exposure to infectious diseases.
Staph infections, HIV, Hepatitis and Herpes are all in a day’s work. Sometimes when I’m eating my lunch or using the restroom, I wonder if I washed my hands well enough to remove every virus and bacteria I’ve come in contact with. Then, there’s the possibility of needle sticks or body fluid that sprays or squirts in your direction. Protective gear like gloves and eye shields are your friends. But handwashing is the real MVP. I probably wash or sanitize my hands 40 times a day. My hands may look like Medusa, but at least it reduces my chances of infection.

4.  Emergencies.
The best part of medicine is that you never know what’s going to happen. The worse part of medicine is that you never know what’s going to happen. When I did my surgery internship, I worked at a Level 1 Trauma Center. There was a helipad on the top of the hospital, and you never knew what kind of disaster was going to be flown in. You would get a page and hear over the loud speaker “Trauma. ETA 5 minutes.” You would then have five minutes to get from wherever you were in the hospital to the trauma bay, don your gown and gloves and get ready for action. It is scary being the person at the end of the ambulance ride! No matter what is going on, you have to be the one to fix it. Though I’m no longer about that life and probably won’t have any people with gunshot wounds or partial amputations strolling into the office, I still come in contact with the unexpected. Mixed in with the colds and rashes are people with strokes, heart attacks and any number of critical problems. These folks will have you running, sweating, shouting orders and calling on the name of the Lord. But all’s well that ends well, right?

5.  People die.
No matter how great a physician you are, people die. It’s what they do, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You never get used it. But if “there’s no crying in baseball”, then there’s definitely no crying in medicine. You have to suck it up and do your job. I remember calling to notify the family of my first patient who died. It was rough. I think they were calmer than I was. When I hung up the phone, I cried. I decided on that day that I could not cry every time someone died. I would never be able to do my job. You steel yourself against your emotions, comfort the family and take care of your other patients. You can always cry on your way home.

Medicine is a sometimes a scary job, but somebody’s got to do it. Over time, you develop coping mechanisms and systems to help you deal with the fear and the stress. Even though this career is filled with death, disease and uncertainty, it is also filled with life, health and joy. I would not trade it for the world.

Jarita Hagans, MD is a Family Practice physician, speaker and author of “MD Dreams:  Practical Advice for Every Stage from Premed to Residency and Beyond”. Find more info on Follow her on Twitter @doctorjarita and Instagram @jaritah


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