Monday, January 21, 2013

a letter to doctors, nurses, sonographers, anesthesiologists, therapists, etc

I get it, this is your job.  At the end of the day or shift you go home and you have your own life to live.  I have a job that I care about immensely but at the end of the day it is just my job.  The difference is that the people I come into contact with at my job will most likely not remember my name or face or the words that come out of my mouth years from now.

You however, have a different job.  Your job inherently becomes intertwined with the best, worst, most powerful and/or most horrific day of peoples lives.  Sure this is not always the case, and I'm sure there are plenty of "boring" days in clinic or in certain specialties.  However, even those boring days are often substantial to your patients.  The way you treat that anxious patient that comes in for their first physical, teeth cleaning or bloodwork in years or maybe decades can dictate whether they take back proactive control of their health.  The way that you speak to a teenager can influence them for years to come.  The way that you look your patients in the eye (or not) can solidify (or destroy) their comfort in your care.

I don't envy your position and I admire the way most of you handle this difficult part of your jobs.  I assume that there are many coping mechanisms for handling this part of patient care but please always keep at the forefront that everyone has a story and your ordinary day is very often  your patients extraordinary day (good or bad).  For those patients that are having an extraordinary day (good or bad), they will never forget your name, face, tone or words.

For me, I will never forget the MFM who we saw at our lowest of lows.  I will never forget her name, her face, the room, or anything else about the one hour exam and discussion.  Without looking away from the ultrasound screen and without any compassion in her voice she told us the worst news of our lives.  Her job was to relay the facts (MFMs often have to relay some horrible facts), it was not her job to be our cheerleader. Unfortunately her tone, demeanor and failure to understand her audience made an extraordinarily bad day for us transform into a day that dark places are made of.

I will never forget the way that my OB slapped us with reality.  He had the advantage of a relationship that was already established; a doctor - patient relationship that had trust.  However he knew the critical moment when he needed to be "real" with us.  With a mixture of compassion, hard facts, tough statistics, scary scenarios, and gentleness he fairly accurately described how the final days of my pregnancy would play out.  His words set the tone for how we handled our journey from that day on ... with a healthy mix of reality and hope.

I will never forget the calmness of the face of our nurse and neonatologist in the NICU on the day of delivery.  I was in a hazy state and don't remember much of what was said,  but I know that they were both simultaneously serious and calm.  Again this set the tone for a healthy relationship of many ups and downs in the subsequent days and months.

There are countless others that I will never forget.  I often feel like I can't step foot in that hospital without seeing someone that had that impact.  Most of these people I only encountered once or twice.  They certainly don't remember me, but that is why their job (and your job) is so important, difficult, and different from my job.  Please know that many patients you see each day hang on your words, read into your demeanor, and are experiencing some of their best or worst days.  Thank you for all you do.


  1. so true. I don't think enough medical profressionals understand that we hang onto every word that comes out of their mouths. As you say, most are great, but the exceptions are very painful.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this perspective! I will try to always keep this in mind. The impact a nurse can have is so much greater than I could even imagine.