Stop asking doctors for free advice

My husband is a doctor. Similar to any other career, this is what he spends most of his time doing. It’s also our family’s livelihood — how we pay our mortgage, our bills and send our daughter to preschool.

He went to through seven years of training after college, often working all night or even 24-plus hour calls. He’s had to miss family dinners, birthday parties, nights of putting our daughter to bed and countless other personal events to be there for children and families who need him.

He is both a work superhero and a family superhero at the same time, carefully finding the balance of time between the two worlds. He also owns his own practice, pays more than I’d like to put in writing for malpractice and liability and loves what he does. He also loves coming home at the end of a long day, kicking off his shoes, turning on the news and sitting down to dinner with the family.

The long hours, years of sacrifice and unplanned on-call phone calls are something we both signed up for. It is a career for the true altruists of the world, those willing to devote their lives to helping and saving others. When a person is in need, I’ve seen my hero husband stop at nothing to save the day. He pulled a man trapped inside a car on a highway after a major crash while we were on our honeymoon in Fiji. He sprinted to his car to get towels and dress the wounds of a woman who we witnessed get hit by a car after breakfast one Saturday morning. He also had stopped on the side of the road on his way home from work to tend to a little kid who fell of his bike.

These situations of helping others are all part of his Hippocratic oath that I so proudly watched him take upon graduation from medical school. It’s a feeling of purpose and a calling when nothing makes me prouder than watching him use his. But it’s the late night calls from our fourth cousins twice removed that drive me to shout from the rooftops: Please stop abusing your acquaintances who are doctors.

If you’re a medical professional or married to one, surely you can relate to the following instances:

(knock on door at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night)

“Hi. I live down the street. I heard your husband is a doctor. Can he come outside and look at my son’s toe? I think it might be fractured.”

Or the text from someone you haven’t spoke to in so long their number is no longer in your phone:

“Hi! Your baby is so cute! Congratulations! (she’s four by the way) I know your husband is a doctor, right? So sorry to ask, but is he available to chat about my son’s reflux?”

Or a Facebook message from a mom you met on the carpool line last week:

“Can you show this picture of my son’s vomit to your husband? What does he think? Is there any way he can prescribe a Z-pack?”

And, a personal favorite:

“Your husband is a pediatrician, right? Can you look at this rash and tell me what you think it could be?”

I get it. I know how inconvenient it can be to take your child to the doctor or the emergency room. The long waits, the no downtime in your schedule, the tears you have to face when you pull into the doctor’s office parking lot … I get it. I also know that feeling of panic when it comes to your child’s health. But I’m here to clear up a few things:

  • The best place to take a child with a suspected fracture is indeed the emergency room.
  • I haven’t spoken to you in years, and we don’t want to spend our Friday night talking about your baby’s reflux.
  • The spouse of a physician does not obtain medical school training through osmosis.

So, here’s the answer: no. I say it with love and light, but no.

Let’s say for example your next-door neighbor is a chef. When you run out of food, would you knock on her door at night and ask if she’d mind cooking you dinner? Or asking her at your next party to go into the kitchen and whip up a little something if she doesn’t mind? Should you Facebook message your acquaintance the accountant and ask him to quickly take a look at your tax return on April 14th?

Some people may read the above examples and think, “Yes, I would do that.” However, even if you think some of the above situations are appropriate (I feel bad for your neighbor — the chef), asking for medical advice from an acquaintance or their spouse is not appropriate for several reasons:

  • Your acquaintance doctor does not know your medical history or that of your child.
  • It is a major liability to give medical advice to someone you don’t know.
  • It is rude to make an urgency out of something that is not indeed urgent and think the best possible scenario is to reach out to someone you barely know and make it their urgency.

I am not insensitive, and I understand that sometimes a simple good Samaritan gesture of using your chosen field of endeavor to help someone is a great way to give back. But there is a difference between giving back to someone in need versus someone who feels it necessary to inconvenience you and your family simply because they don’t feel they should be the one inconvenienced by actually going to the doctor.

So please think of your acquaintances in your life who are doctors and their families. Remember that health care professionals are just that … professionals. They go to work every day, work for a paycheck, pay bills and come home to be with family. Your very valid question or health care concern has a great platform — at your doctor’s office.

The author is an anonymous writer.

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