Let me tell you that being a doctor in the family can be a tricky business! On the one hand, you’re the go-to person for all things medical, so you’re never short on people to talk to at family gatherings. On the other hand, you’re also the go-to person for all things medical, so you’re never short on people to talk to at family gatherings. That can get old very quickly.
I have found that one of the biggest challenges of being the doctor in the family is the constant expectation that you’re on call 24/7. Forget about taking a day off; your nieces and nephews will still expect you to diagnose their runny noses over FaceTime. And let’s not forget about your parents, who will ask for your professional opinion on every single health supplement they’re considering taking — even if they end up not listening to you, anyways, as you are only their son, after all. It is not like you are truly a doctor, right?
An additional challenge of being the doctor in the family is the potential for ethical and professional issues. Treating a family member can put a physician in a difficult position, as there may be conflicts of interest or questions about the physician’s objectivity. Moreover, treating a family member could also put the physician at risk of disciplinary action by the state or province medical board, depending on where you live. In Quebec, believe it or not, doctors get suspended for months (lose their license, income, and right to practice) for the crime of treating a sister for something as benign as a UTI or prescribing an anti-inflammatory to an uncle for lower back pain.
Limited access for these people to a doctor is due to a failed Canadian universal health care system.
This could happen if the physician fails to obtain informed consent, if the physician’s judgment is impaired by their relationship with the patient (read any family member, colleague, or friend) or if the physician violates any other professional standard of care.
Be warned! Physicians must be aware of the ethical implications of treating family members and be familiar with the guidelines and regulations their local medical boards set forth.
Another downside is the emotional toll that comes with the job. As a physician, you often face difficult cases and heartbreaking situations. But as the doctor in the family, you’re also expected to have all the answers and be the rock for your loved ones. You can’t be in doubt. You can’t not know. You can’t be emotional about what is happening to one of your loved ones (or relatives, sometimes, they are the same people).
It can be a tough balance, and sometimes it’s hard to separate the emotional impact of the job from your personal life.
Privacy and boundaries can also be problematic, as family members may feel comfortable discussing personal medical information or asking for medical favors. It’s a tricky situation, especially when you’re trying to balance being a good doctor with being a good family member.
And let’s not forget about the financial implications. As the doctor in the family, you’re expected to provide top-notch medical care at a discounted rate (friends and family). Good luck trying to explain to your parents that a house call doesn’t come cheap.
Finally, isolation and disconnection can come with being the doctor in the family. You may have to keep certain information confidential, making it difficult to discuss certain issues with family members or make them feel excluded from certain aspects of your life. At least you’ll have plenty of medical jargon to throw around at family gatherings to make yourself sound important. It might feed your ego for a while.
Being the doctor in the family can be a real roller coaster ride. But despite the challenges, it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to help and care for your loved ones. Just remember to set boundaries, take care of yourself, and always have a good sense of humor.
Jean Paul Brutus is a hand surgeon.