So… what do you do? Part 2

2016-01-05 14.35.17

I’m having a bit of a nightmare navigating the delicate social quagmire of speaking to another doctor when you’re a patient who also happens to be an ex-doctor.

It’s always a bit strange being treated and cared for when your job is to treat and care for others, but now that I’m no longer working clinically, it feels even stranger. I was hoping that you, my loyal readers, could give me your opinion.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the pitfalls of answering the “So what do you do?” question when you’ve just had a massive career change. Now I’m starting to get used to telling my weird I-used-to-be-a-doctor-but-I-left-and-went-into-content-marketing story. Sometimes I even miss out the doctor bit for the sake of ease, but what I’m still finding difficult and slightly bizarre is talking to medical professionals as a patient.

Just after I left medicine, I had to take my fiancé to our local hospital for a minor operation. I remember waiting in A+E, contemplating the mess that was my life, and then we were called into the triage room to be seen by a very nice orthopaedic SHO. I let him explain what was happening, even though I knew perfectly well what my fiancé’s diagnosis was, and exactly what would happen next. Somehow or other, during the conversation I let slip that I was a doctor myself, and the SHO looked surprised and slightly embarrassed as he said:

“Oh! You should have told me before! I wouldn’t have dumbed it down so much.”

I also felt a little embarrassed, but to be fair, my fiancé was the patient, so it was good that he understood what was going on.

But the other day, I went to see a consultant dermatologist. My mum accompanied me, but I was the patient this time. We shook hands and sat down, and he began to tell me about the layers of the skin – first dermatology lesson at medical school stuff -and after debating in my head for a few seconds as to whether I should say something, I remembered the orthopaedic SHO and ventured to interrupt him in what I thought was the politest way possible.

“I’m so sorry to stop you, but I thought I should just let you know – I’m a doctor too.”

Later, however, my mother told me that I’d been rather rude and she’d never been so ashamed of me in her life!

The consultant looked as embarrassed as the orthopaedic SHO, and took a hasty second look at the medical form I had filled in when I had arrived at the clinic. I had written ‘marketing manager’ as my occupation – no wonder he was confused! He then looked at my title – ‘Dr.’ of course. He hadn’t noticed that before. He apologised profusely, but I assured him that I wasn’t at all offended – he hadn’t known, after all.

I felt awful, because he was a nice man and I didn’t mean to make him feel that way. I wondered, as my ears grew hotter and hotter, whether I should have put ‘doctor’ as my occupation on the form instead. It wouldn’t have been strictly true, because I no longer work as a doctor, but to avoid major awkwardness perhaps a little white lie would have been somewhat justified.

I have thought about it many times since. Was my mother right? Was it so very rude to save him wasting time explaining things I already knew ? What if said time wastage had resulted in the consultation ending without my having the chance to ask more complex questions that I really did want to know the answers to? And if I had been inpatient, could I not be forgiven for wanting desperately to get to the point and discuss my treatment options?

I’m going to have to find a solution for this, because there are going to be other times in life when I’ll be a patient. I want to have kids in the next few years, and after the things I’ve seen, there’s no way I’d have them anywhere but a hospital.

So what do I do? Your help would be greatly appreciated as I try to figure out how on earth I, Dr Perera, former junior doctor, am going to explain myself.

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13 thoughts on “So… what do you do? Part 2

  1. At a couple of appointments I’ve been to, I’ve just used the usual medical lingo talking to them – they usually hesitate and ask after my background a few mins in. To which I say ‘I used to be medical’. Has been pretty smooth so far with no real awkwardness! Hope that helps love 🙂

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    1. Thanks, that’s a good tip. Actually, your comment reminded me of something – the consultant didn’t let me speak much at the beginning of the consultation – he began his talk about the skin without actually taking my history, so I didn’t actually get a chance to drop any medical lingo in… Highlights the importance of letting your patient speak I guess!

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  2. I ended up being an inpatient after finishing medical school but before I’d applied for foundation training. My consultant spent (proportionally) a lot of time on discussing why I hadn’t applied for foundation training and encouraging me to do so, and from comments I got from other doctors this had clearly been discussed among the team… It was quite frustrating to have to explain and defend myself about my career choices when really I was sick and wanted a diagnosis and management plan, and I feel I may have been better served then by not ‘coming out’ at all at that point!

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  3. Its a very good question and I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. There are instances where disclosing your medical background may be necessary otherwise you get treated like an ignoramus! On the other hand, there are other times when you’d rather keep that title to yourself and observe from a distance because some Doctors just start to feel insecure the moment they realise the patient before them is actually a colleague in the profession-its like “big brother is watching them”.

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      1. Absolutely! The police analogy is spot on! I think you’ll make a fantastic author-I think you should definitely write books-I find myself coming back to read more and more of your blogs because your story is for real and I can identify with your struggles. Secondly, your writing style is so addictive and a pleasure to read!

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  4. Not on the same level as a Doc – I was a hairdresser for 20 years and still keep my hand in with a few friends hair. I have the same debate every time i get my hair and beard trimmed – Do i say that i am a hairdresser? I have opened my mouth in the past and ended up with a nervous stylist and the resulting haircut was horrendous. I have also kept quiet and wished i had said something as again the resulting hair style was “interesting” I find myself watching their every move and judging if i would have used the same technique. My current barber knows about my background and my career change – he was not at all phased, is an amazing barber and my beard has never looked better!

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  5. >He then looked at my title – ‘Dr.’ of course. He hadn’t noticed that before.

    The question of whether to use the title “Dr” can be slightly problematic when you are not a medical doctor but have a PhD, too. You don’t want people to assume you are a medical doctor, but you do want people – and this is particularly true of doctors when you are a patient in hospital – to know you have scientific training and are capable of handing a complex explanation, even if you don’t have the medical knowledge. So just how you convey the message – I’m still not sure.

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  6. Well I’ve found the danger when you’re an AHP is that doctors then don’t dumb down their explanations… But it can be a bit above my knowledge! On the other hand I once knew a paediatric dietitian who got her own room after giving birth cod they misunderstood and thought she was a paediatrician!! Pros&cons.

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    1. Aww no! Yes that’s true for doctors too, I suppose. I mean, a single doctor can’t know everything there is to know about medicine. A specialist consultant may be knowledgeable in their own field, but naturally not as up-to-date in their knowledge of others. I guess it makes two-way communication and the avoidance of presumption all the more important.

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