Doctors don’t take snow days

Editor’s note: This post was originally written this past winter.

Boston had another blizzard today. I was really worried about this one. It was supposed to snow hard, about three inches an hour from 3 a.m. to 12 p.m. with poor visibility, impassable roads, etc. I’ve driven home in snow like that, and I find it terrifying. Your car won’t do what you want it to, and worse, other people can’t be counted on to be either careful or able to control their vehicles or even able to see you.

I texted my chief to see if there was any chance the O.R. would close and cases would be cancelled for non-call personnel, but it was business as usual.

So I went back to the hospital to spend the night last night before the snow started. My husband and I had been planning a quiet evening together, but all he could do was wave sadly at me from the window as my car pulled away.

My chief, worried that the bridges connecting his area to the hospitals would be closed, drove to the hospital at 2 a.m. and set up an air mattress in the anesthesia office.

My other colleagues left their homes at least an hour earlier than usual to brave the blizzard and arrive at work on time.

100% of the doctors in our practice made sure they reported for duty at the appointed time, literally come hell or high water.

How many of the nurses and nurse anesthetists did the same?

To be fair, one of the nurses had the honor and dedication to trudge through the snow from her house in order to make it. I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t dedicated, hard-working nurses. But several of the nurses called in “sick” and only one of the nurse anesthetists who were scheduled to work this morning actually bothered to come. What was their excuse? Too much snow.

It has become common for nurses to seek to be recognized as equal to physicians in much of the work that they do (even publishing articles to that effect in newspapers and journals). But on days like this, it’s impossible for the docs to gather around the water cooler without noticing and commenting on the vast difference in work ethic between M.D.’s and non-M.D.’s. It’s just not possible to get through med school and residency making excuses for not showing up and meeting your duties to patients, just because conditions are inconvenient. Nor do we get to feel entitled to extra pay or time off for the extra time and effort spent getting to work hours and hours early due to a snow storm.

Moreover, with our verbal Socratic oath I believe most of us take an attitudinal, internal oath to be there for our patients whether or not we feel like it, have had enough breaks during the day, etc. Why else be a physician, if you don’t have this kind of commitment to taking care of your patients?

So it grates. I hate to admit it, but it grates when what you think of as the practice of medicine, not only a duty but also a calling to be there to heal others, gets generically lumped in with the practice of other “health care providers.” There is a difference, generally speaking, not only in training but also in the overall attitude to the work. Doctors don’t take snow days.

Anesthesioboist T is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Notes of an Anesthesioboist.

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