skip to main content
The Blurred Lines Between Doctors and Patients

The Blurred Lines Between Doctors and Patients

Today is Valentine’s Day. It always reminds me of times when doctors become patients yet still are doctors. The reason for this is that my son, my first child, was born on Valentine’s Day. I was a first-year attending physician. I was on call and in labor as I completed my rounds and consults for that day. I was in pain when I checked out to the physician who would take over for me. It was uncomfortable for me as I ended my clinical duty, physically and also emotionally. I was blurring the line between physician and patient. I was entering the patient space in the hospital where I also worked as a physician.

kangaroo stuffed animal in a nicu room with a nurse and baby in background.

I am sharing a news article that I read earlier this year about Dr. Amanda Hess, an obstetrician in rural Kentucky. She has an amazing story of being a patient in labor and at the same time she was the physician who stepped up to deliver the baby down the hall when no one else was available.

My own delivery stories, though not as dramatic as that of Dr. Hess, also share elements of the blending of doctor and patient roles. I delivered my first child unexpectedly at 36 weeks. When we arrived at labor and delivery, we found it was crowded. Apparently, there were several scheduled deliveries to guarantee a Valentine’s Day birthday. The special room often used by doctors was not available. I was a patient, just like any other, and I labored next to a woman who was also the mother of one of my patients. She delivered twins who became my new patients the moment they were born. We would share our memories of that day for years as she would bring the twins in for their visits.

My second delivery was a daughter born at term on June 30. This is the end of residency in academic hospitals, so the entire hospital was celebrating and parties were happening on every ward. For me, everything looked good, so I was delivering somewhat on my own, with a nurse, my husband, and a resident who would pop in from time to time. Then things changed. My daughter was born in respiratory arrest. The nurse took her to the warmer and called a code blue. I automatically tried to get up and resuscitate my own daughter. I am a pediatrician and have spent a lot of time in delivery rooms. It seemed natural to try and stand up and help. Fortunately, others had arrived by that time and a senior obstetrician reminded me that I was a patient in this scenario. The drama was short-lived. Although my daughter’s 1-minute Apgar score was 1, her 5-minute score was back up to 8. The very wise obstetrician assured me that all would be well and that even though the first minute was rocky, I would be paying too much for college in about 18 years. He was right.

In the year that I have been at Texas A&M, I know that there have been several instances that have blurred the lines between future physician and patient. The emotions associated with these, like the practice of medicine, are not always easy or joyful.  Please share your experiences or thoughts on how the lines are easily blurred between physicians and patients.

Leave a Reply