The strangest thing has been happening to me this month. Maybe it’s been happening for the past few months, but I only really started to notice in the past few weeks.
My patient’s don’t always think I’m their doctor.
Let me explain.
When a new patient comes to the hospital, I generally go into the room to introduce myself, ask a few questions, make sure they are stable and doing okay. Then, I leave to go put in admission orders, order initial tests, and get everything going. During that time the nurse usually has lots of questions to ask, IV’s to put in, the lab techs come to draw blood- a lot goes on.
Later, I go back into the room and talk to the patient again. I ask questions about what happened to bring them in, I ask them about their personal life to get to know them, and I explain to them what the plan is for their stay in the hospital. I answer questions and tell them the entire team will come in to see them later.
But here’s the thing: I don’t introduce myself as “Dr. Tooley”, I introduce myself as “Andrea”. Actually, I always say it just like this:
“Hi, I’m Andrea, one of the doctors with the medicine team/hematology team/neurology team/whatever.”
For some reason, I feel weird saying, “Hi, I’m Dr. Tooley.” I don’t know why. Maybe I don’t feel like a real doctor yet? Maybe I just feel like it’s too pretentious to have someone twice my age or more (which most of my patients are) address me as “doctor”.
Anyways, last week the same thing happened several times. I went in to talk to a patient, whom I had already met and talked to- whom I had already told I was the doctor- and they asked me “when is the doctor coming in?” Last week I was off work for one day and my fellow resident saw a patient for me. I had admitted this patient and seen them for multiple days, but when I got back from my day off, the patient asked when they were going to see Dr. Kubey- the resident who had seen them yesterday.
I think there are multiple factors that play into patients not realizing I am their doctor- for one, I’m pretty short and small and look young. For two, I’m a woman and despite all the advances in society, people still think of the “real doctor” as a male. And lastly, I don’t introduce myself as “Doctor”. At first I felt really bad about it, and thought maybe I wasn’t spending enough time with my patients, or getting to know them well enough (which is a common problem for interns because we have SO much stuff to do during the day- like put in orders, make phone calls, and write notes). But, I see all my patients multiple times a day and I really try to touch base with them any time I have news regarding their condition… I definitely don’t avoid my patients!
There is always a consultant overseeing all the patients, and at the end of the day, the responsibility falls on the consultant to be the “main doctor” but really, I am the patient’s doctor when they are in the hospital- I am the one seeing them every day- multiple times a day. I put in all the orders for the patient, I write daily notes on the patient, I go in to tell them news, and I lead the discussions with the patients during rounds.
So, for the last few days I decided to start introducing myself as Dr. Tooley, and making it clear that I am the doctor for the patient.
And you know what? It worked. In the last 3 days I’ve had multiple patients say to me, “okay doctor” or “thank you doctor.” And boy does that feel good!!
I want my patients to have faith and trust in me. I want them to know that I am taking care of them, and that I am the doctor. I want them to know that I am the right person to ask questions, to talk to, etc.
What do you think? Have you been in a hospital setting and not known who the doctor was?
How would you handle this kind of situation?