Dear Bill Maher,
I respect your First Amendment right to exercise free speech. In regards to your recent comments on doctors, however, your words don’t matter. Here’s why.
There is a concept known as the beauty of medicine; I attempt to capture it in the following paragraphs.
If you present to the emergency department with acute chest pain, we will work you up for heart attack, blood clot of the lungs, blood vessel dissections and other potentially catastrophic conditions. We will open your clogged arteries with balloons, we will take you to the operating room and cut you open and give you anesthesia and monitor you every day of your recovery.
If you die, we will deliver the news to your family. If you have rectal bleeding, we will snake a scope all the way up your colon. If your baby is dying, we will keep her comfortable. If you have cancer we will give you medicine, cut you, radiate you, search for clinical trials, fight the insurance companies to cover what only we know is medically necessary, and we will provide palliative care if necessary.
We will read your radiologic images, look at your slides under the microscope and interpret your laboratory results. We will consult our specialty colleagues for their expertise. We will treat your psychiatric illnesses with psychotherapy and medications and attempt to de-stigmatize your mental illness. We will deliver the next generation into this world as safely as we can. If you are a drug addicted HIV positive homeless person with a hundred pus draining abscesses, we will admit you to the hospital in the room next to the woman who drives a Mercedes. We will see you in our clinics, hospitals ERs, and ORs.
We are fallible. I can’t decide if you expect us to be or not. When no one is looking, and sometimes when people are, we might shed a tear or punch a wall because people die on our watch. If you are ignorant, rude, angry, smelly, entitled, indignant, cursing, or all of the above, we will take care of you. Why? Not because we will lose our jobs if we don’t. Plenty of people leave clinical medicine for a career in a different or related field. We will take care of you because medicine is a one of a kind union of science and humanity.
The favorite, albeit generic, answer to the ubiquitous medical school interview question still rings true: “Why do you want to go to medical school?”
Because I want to help people.
Rebecca Simstein is a physician.