One day, I was examining an eight-year-old boy. As I entered the exam room and introduced myself, he said, “I didn’t know that doctors could be men.”
Apparently, in all the years that he had coming to our practice, he had only seen the women “providers.” He wasn’t aware of how things had changed so much during my career.
Fifty years ago when I started medical school, my class of 80 students included 16 women (20%) which at that time was higher than the national average. When I finished my pediatric residency in 1978, my specialty was still dominated by men. Over the years, as more women went into medicine, pediatrics became a specialty which attracted many more women than men.
Now when I go to a pediatrics conference, I am surrounded by mostly women. The majority of the men are typically old timers like me.
When I was a third-year medical student at a well-known NYC school, I was taking an elevator with some other students. We were discussing a case that we had just seen.
Along with us in the elevator was a professor whom we didn’t know. He didn’t say anything until we exited the elevator and he followed us so that he could reprimand us for talking about a patient where someone might have been able to overhear us. “You never know when someone in the patient’s family could have been in the elevator.”
Even though we had not mentioned the patient by name, that lesson stuck with me throughout my whole career. From that point on (and that was pre-HIPAA – the laws designed to protect a patient’s information), I was always very conscious of everyone’s right to privacy. There were many times that I had to end a discussion with someone when I realized that our conversation could be overheard.
I used this story from 50 years ago to teach this same lesson to any new employee in my office, whether it was a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse or receptionist.
It does remind me of a humorous incident which happened to me at the Boston airport while I was awaiting a flight. It was very crowded and the only seat available near the gate was next to a woman talking in a very loud voice on her cellphone. Call after call, she was discussing her patients’ test results.
After listening to her go on and on, I whispered to her, “I have one word for you – HIPAA.”
With a look of extreme annoyance, she responded, “I’m a veterinarian, stupid.”