My son is 16 months old, and I’ve never told his pediatrician I’m a doctor.
More than a decade after becoming an MD, I still struggle with the “reveal” of my identity as a physician when a family member or I am a patient. On one hand, I want the treating doctor to know my background to allow for a more sophisticated (but not too sophisticated!) conversation. On the other hand, most of the time I just want to be a mom, a sister, a daughter, or a scared patient.
Over the past ten years, I have been in dozens of medical encounters as both a family member and a patient. In the beginning, I felt obligated to share my medical background, but it always felt so awkward. I’d find myself blurting out, “By the way, I’m a doctor” during a random part of the history. Or worse, my family would “out” me and tell the treating physician as soon as they walked in the room, “She’s a doctor.”
I’d worry the treating team might think I have an agenda, will want to direct care, or question their judgment. I would also feel hesitant to ask questions not wanting to embarrass myself by asking something a board-certified emergency physician should know.
So until recently, at least when I’ve been alone, I’d say nothing. I would find myself carefully choosing my words so as not to expose myself; pain didn’t “radiate,” symptoms did not start “acutely.” It made me feel uncomfortable, like an imposter keeping a secret from my doctor—a physician posing as a patient. It also made me feel hypocritical; I always want to know when my patient or their family member is a doctor.
But my not-so-forthcoming approach changed after a recent shift when a patient’s mother — and fellow physician — showed me how to handle the reveal beautifully.
She brought her young son to the emergency department for fever and cough. I entered the room, and as I usually do, extended my hand to her and introduced myself, “Good morning, I’m Dr. Borhart.”
She shook my hand and said warmly, “I’m K. It’s always a pleasure to meet fellow physician colleagues.”
“You’re a doctor?” I asked.
“Yes, a radiologist, but today I’m just Ben’s mom.”
Just like that. Simple. Natural. Not awkward at all.
I’m inspired by K’s effortless reveal and look forward to embracing both of my identities — emergency physician, and Sean’s mom — at my son’s 18-month check-up in a few weeks.
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