Are you my doctor?
So you’ve been admitted to the hospital. And I must stress that you not let this happen to you if you can possibly help it. I myself intend to have “do not take me to any hospital under any circumstances” tattooed on my chest when I reach a certain age (“feed only cabernet and chocolate chip cookies” will be on my back). But sometimes it’s necessary and so here you are. A question will come up while you are there that you won’t expect: WHO IS MY DOCTOR?
This may seem obvious unless admission has happened to you. If you are admitted through the ER the first doctor you will see will likely be an ER resident. A resident is a doctor who has finished med school and is now training in the actual practice of emergency medicine. He/she will ask you a whole bunch of questions and examine you. This resident will then report to his attending. An attending is a doctor who has finished med school and training, has been certified in his field, and has varying levels of experience. This doctor will then come see you and ask you all the same questions and do the same exam. Depending on what’s wrong with you, you will then probably be seen by a specialty service, for instance general surgery if you have a gallbladder problem or a nephrologist if your problem is your kidneys, etc. That services resident will then come and ask you the questions and examine you. The he/she will report to his/her attending on that service, who will, you guessed it, ask and examine as well. Various lab tests and imaging studies will be ordered etc. Be patient. Bring a book.
If you are lucky enough to need emergent surgery, congratulations! You have met or will soon meet YOUR DOCTOR. Generally the surgeon who operates on you is your doctor for your whole stay, and you will meet him/her before you go into the operating room. If you are not so fortunate as to need emergency surgery, you will eventually be taken to your room (where you are likely to have a roommate). Some hours later another pair of residents, the ones responsible for you on the hospital ward, will again ask and examine. What’s this now, like, 6 doctors? At least. None of them are YOUR DOCTOR.
It will likely be the next morning before you lay eyes on YOUR DOCTOR. Very early in the morning a gaggle of residents, med students, nurses and hangers-on will all gather outside your door to talk about “your case”. Then they will all file in to stand around your bed and stare at you. Pay attention now. You are about to meet YOUR DOCTOR. Look carefully around. One of the people in the group will be a little older, a little more gray, will maybe be the one without the lab coat. The others will defer to him/her a little. THIS IS YOUR DOCTOR. This is the only person who has any real power over what happens to you, and that’s why this is important. Be nice to all the residents but don’t ask them any questions. Their job is to make sure that everything you need to have done gets done and they have your best interests at heart, but they have the best interests of 30 other people too so don’t bug them too much. YOUR DOCTOR, however, should be bothered. Rounds are the only time you are going to see this person. So be awake, ask questions, push for things you know need to be done. This may irritate him/her. That’s OK. If possible have someone with you who can be your advocate. Don’t listen to too many other people or you will get terribly confused. If you do get confused, come back. That’s why I’m here.