“Hi, my name is Kristin Yates, and I am the OB/GYN doctor.” This is how I greet most patients for the first time.
It has never really felt natural to introduce myself as “Dr. Yates,” even now that I have been an attending physician for more than five years. To be fair, for the first several years of my career, it felt uncomfortable to refer to myself as “Dr. Yates” because part of me felt like a total fraud. But as I began to make strides to overcome my self-doubt and realized that imposter syndrome was just a normal part of being human, I realized that my aversion to being called “Dr. Yates” was about way more than just awkwardness.
Like many women physicians, I have been mistaken for a nurse or student countless times throughout my career. While I have certainly been irritated about this, I have come to recognize that other people’s inability to presume that I am their physician has very little to do with me or my ability to care for them. What I do know is that if they were to need me for a gynecologic or obstetric emergency, their preconceived notion would have no impact on my ability or willingness to save their life.
The fact of the matter is, I am not a doctor. I am a human being. Doctoring is what I do, not who I am. This distinction is very important to me because it is what has made medicine sustainable and fulfilling.
As an OB/GYN, there are countless opportunities for my ego to get in the way. I could worry about patient reviews, malpractice, being the best surgeon, if patients are requesting me in the office, if I am the most productive, if I am the most up to date on the literature and on and on it goes. All of these things feel very important to physicians because that’s how we are trained to think. However, when I was on the verge of leaving medicine, none of these things were what kept me going.
It was sitting with my patient in an exam room and letting her cry or vent or complain. It was really listening to her concerns and questions and what she wanted. It was being devastated with her when I didn’t hear her baby’s heartbeat or when I had to tell her that she had cancer. It was performing surgery to save her or her baby’s life. It was the service.
Service is what brings most humans to medicine. Serving others is a form of love, and love is what we were put on this earth to do. As Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, explains, love is a function of the right hemisphere of our brain. Unfortunately, that is the half that gets neglected in medical training. Instead, our brain’s left hemisphere gets all the attention and accolades. That’s the half that helps us learn thousands of pages of medical information, memorize countless drugs, and understand systems and processes in an organized and linear manner.
Our left hemisphere is very useful; there is no arguing that. It is what creates our identities and stores our memories, and can plan for the future. Unfortunately, it is also the part of our brain that doubts, worries, passes judgment, and gets offended. It’s what tells us that we aren’t good enough or smart enough and that perfection is the only acceptable goal. It’s the part that gets defensive when someone calls us “nurse” or “student” or “hey you” because WE ARE DOCTORS! As you can probably surmise, it’s the part that makes us want to leave medicine because it’s not at all what we thought it would be.
I was able to reconnect with my right hemisphere and incorporate it regularly into my clinical practice. This means that I stay in the moment with my patients instead of running through my to-do list or worrying about what they are thinking about me. It means that I validate myself after a successful day of surgery, even if it wasn’t “perfect.” It means that I don’t let a negative patient review challenge my self-worth. It means that when a patient is questioning me, I hold space without getting offended. It means unconditional love.
My purpose as a human is love. That purpose is being partially fulfilled in my role as a doctor, where I get to be in service to my patients. I get to listen to them, teach them, guide them and sometimes heal them. That purpose has nothing to do with the words they call me or the title on my door. Sometimes it may even act as a barrier for those patients who have, based on their past, certain negative or less than favorable assumptions about doctors.
I am Kristin Yates, and I work as a doctor. This sentence, as simple as it sounds, brings me fulfillment and joy. It makes me a better doctor.
Kristin Yates is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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