What Doctors Do Differently

I was in the break room at the hospital scarfing down a power bar between three-hour cases. The truth is, I was multi-tasking: eating, writing on a chart, and checking my email in my phone.

I had received an email from a businesswoman, whom I have known for a few years. She wanted to know if I wanted to join her for lunch next week.

I had to laugh out loud.

The rest of the staff, who were busy also grabbing a quick bite in between patient cases, looked up. I read the email out loud.

“Lunch!?” they all said.

Then, we all did the combo of laughing and shaking our heads.

Doctors don’t “do lunch.”

Even when I am in the office, taking a break and actually leaving the office for lunch is out of the question. On those super busy days, I bring something slightly more like real food to eat than my usual power bar. And I heat up hot water for some tea.

But always, as the water warms for my tea, I complete the morning’s charts, fill out paperwork for surgery the next day, and answer questions from my staff on patient concerns.

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Doctors experience the world a bit differently.

So, no. I wouldn’t exactly call this a true “lunch hour.”

The invitation to lunch got me thinking of all the things doctors–and most medical staff– do differently.

Here’s a quick list I came up with in a few spare minutes between patients:

We don’t always sleep through the night. Our pagers or phones are at the ready, whether we want them to be or not, for urgent or not so urgent calls, 24/7.

We don’t try to see movies or eat nice dinners out when we are on call. Yes, it’s annoying for others when our phones ring during a movie. But, what’s more disrupting is having to leave the theater at the best part of the movie to meet someone in the emergency room.

We don’t make appointments to take care of our own health. I know I am not alone when I admit that the few times I reluctantly dragged myself to a doctor’s office, I was almost too sick to walk or drive there. I remember a time when my technician insisted I be seen “Now!” I literally asked if there was somewhere I could lie down as soon as I checked in at the front desk. It turned out that I had pneumonia.

Yes, doctors’ lives are different.

But, if you know me at all, you also know that I am going to find a silver lining to this story.

On the flip side of our differences are things doctors get to do that other people never experience:

We get to wear pajamas (some call them scrubs) and comfortable shoes to work. Not always, but most of the time. Sometimes, the soft cloth of the well-worn scrubs are the most comfy part of the day.We get to hear people’s stories, their fears, their innermost concerns. Our patients trust us. They value us enough to go out on a limb with their own discomfort to seek help.

We get to relieve pain, reduce fear and reassure. Not always. But, arguably, more often than most people.

We are often the first to know. We are in the operating room when the pathologist calls in to report that the lesion thought to be cancer is benign.

We get to be the bearer of great news. We tell the patient and their family the good news of the pathology report.

We get to see the miracle of life when the baby is born. We witness the joy of the parents, and the incredible love-rush that surrounds the entire room, every time.

Yes, doctors experience the world a bit differently.

But, I think it’s a fair trade for eating power bars in the break room during our lunch hour.

Wouldn’t you agree?



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14 thoughts on “What Doctors Do Differently

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D Post author

      Kelly, thanks for your note! And I love your blog about being the doctor’s wife – it has a lot of truth to it, for sure! Feel free to spread the word about my site and I will totally spread the word to all the wives of my male partners (all 25 of them) about your fun site. 🙂

        1. Starla Fitch, M.D Post author

          Hi Kelly! Just wanted you to know that if you go to http://www.lovemedicineagain.com, on the top right of main page, you can get a free ebook which your husband may appreciate: 5 Simple Steps to Put the Magic Back in Your Medical Practice. Enter your name and email, and you will then get an email for you to confirm. This gives you access to my weekly Monday newsletter, with some insider tips, and extra doctor stories, and such. You can also find me on FB at Love Medicine Again: Starla Fitch MD or on Twitter – @StarlaFitchMD. Looking forward to connecting!

  1. Jared

    I think this is an incredible post. As a medical student, I obviously get quite a bit more of a life than I might as a doctor, but there are still times when I have to miss out on things to tend to my studies or see a patient. I think it is incredibly hard to explain to the ones I love that I love them, but I love what I’m doing to. I think this is a great thing for me to be able to share with them so they can try to understand just what it is that drives me and that as hard as it is for them, it is just as hard for us.

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D Post author

      Jared, thanks so much for your comments. Yes, it is so hard for folks outside the medical field to “get it” that our plate is overly full. Once, when my parents were visiting from out of state, the phone rang at 2 a.m. with a patient problem. My mom was shocked that someone would call at that hour. And I have been doing this 20 years! Guess I thought she knew . . .

  2. John Carroll, MD

    fNice piece–but a bit scary. I heard “Dr. Mom” remind us twenty years ago that ther eis a reasonteh airline safety lecture tells us to apply our own mask first if traveling with children. (Now it is “with those who need assistance.”) If we pass out on their lap, we’ve done them no good. WE CANNOT BE our best parent, doctor, friend, child for others unless we are in deed AT OUT BEST. That means placing a priority on our own health and well being. Sleep, exercise, healthy diets, recreation, nurturing our relationships will make us better doctors. Let’s try to get away from the “too busy for lunch” lifestyles with active choices to do this job smarter and better. Thanks for the forum to explore this.What choice will make you a healthier doctor?

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D Post author

      John, thanks for your heartfelt comments. (and I totally get the typos!). I couldn’t agree more with you saying that we need to focus on our self so we can be of better help to others. In fact, in my interviews with many doctors, asking them what they would tell their 29 year old self about how to be a better doctor, guess what many said? “Take better care of yourself. Get more rest. Eat better. Reduce stress.” And I love your question about “what choice will you make to be a better doctor?” I’m going to carry that over to the Facebook page at Love Medicine Again: Starla Fitch, MD – a great topic for all. Thanks again! And p.s. – I’m going to start meditating again (that’s my answer to your question – thanks for the nudge).

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  4. sue

    Having a job where you are not allowed to take care of yourself is absolutely not worth it. Becoming a doctor was absolutely the worst thing I ever did. I’m now in massive debt and stuck in a job I despise in order to make the money needed to pay that debt off.

    Oh, and in addition to not being able to eat lunch, or sleep through the night on call, I also don’t get to go to the bathroom when I want to. Rarely do patients want my help- but they want their demands met. They want me to approve them for disability when they are not disabled. They want me to approve them for a home health aide so they can have a “free maid”. The refuse to take care of themselves, eat whatever they want and blame me for their blood sugar being out of control. They know that I’m now being held accountable by the government for hospital admissions, so they use that to manipulate me- threaten to go to the hospital unless I see them immediately.

    They suck the life out of me and don’t care. I cannot believe I had to pay several hundred thousand dollars to become an indentured servant.

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  7. Stacie

    Thank you Dr Fitch for this article. Everything you mentioned is so true. I worked with preeclampsia with pressures 170/110, delivering babies, knowing I needed to be off my feet and probably delivered. I’ve never had a real lunch in this career, always eating cold food while my assistant and I go over phone messages and labs. I run over to the hospital to make rounds or catch a baby in between patients, running on little sleep and caffeine. I appreciate your writing, it made me laugh and cry!


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