My son is 16 months old, and I’ve never told his pediatrician I’m a doctor.
More than a decade after becoming an M.D., 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 10 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.