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Opinion As a doctor, I am willing to do whatever it takes to defeat this virus. Why isn’t Trump?

A doctor passes by tents set up outside of the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in New York on April 2.
A doctor passes by tents set up outside of the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in New York on April 2. (Peter Foley/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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Sophie A. Greenberg is a dermatology resident physician in New York City.

“We’re not a shipping clerk.” I can’t forget President Trump’s response at a coronavirus press briefing when asked how he would help states secure lifesaving medical equipment.

I am a physician, a dermatology resident, in New York City, who has volunteered to help in a hospital emergency department, intensive care unit and elsewhere during the covid-19 emergency. Strictly speaking, a physician’s duties are to diagnose and treat a patient’s illness or injury. The president’s comment brought to mind all the times I have stepped outside of my physician role — as any physician would do — to care for my patients.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

I am not a phlebotomist, but when my patient needs a lab test, and the phlebotomist has gone home and it’s outside a nurse’s duties, I draw my patient’s blood.

I am not a secretary, but I work until 10 most nights to document every patient encounter in the electronic medical record.

I am not a nurse, but when I learn that my patient’s dressings have not been changed on time, I stay to do it myself.

I am not patient support services, but I wait on hold for hours with insurance companies to obtain prior authorization for my patient’s medications.

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

I am not a scheduler, but I respond to requests for expedited appointments, even when it means being awoken at 3 a.m. by the emergency department asking to accommodate a patient with an eczema flare-up.

I am not an ICU physician, but when hospitals are overwhelmed with sick patients during a pandemic, I pull out my stethoscope and stand by when asked to help out in the intensive care unit.

If physicians refused to complete work that is outside of their strict job description, the health-care system would collapse. Physicians know this to be true, and so does the government. The covid-19 pandemic has provided some of the most extreme examples of health-care professionals stretching their roles and risking their lives to care for their patients. Normally, a mask is discarded after every patient encounter; now, we are given one mask to use for an entire week.

For two years, as an undergraduate student, I served as a volunteer emergency medical technician for a local EMT squad. During our training, the importance of scene safety and body-substance isolation were drilled into us: We were not to enter a situation without first ensuring our own health and safety. If you get hurt, not only are you unable to help others, but who is going to help you? At best, you become a burden to your team.

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In some ways, it feels as if we are now being asked to walk into a burning building. I trust myself to be careful and stay safe, but I am in a position I would have found unimaginable a month ago.

Now, when our lives depend on it, the president is not pulling out all the stops to bring us proper personal protective equipment and ventilators for our patients.

I am not a seamstress, but this week I found myself sewing my own mask.

Read more:

Carig Spencer: What it’s like being a New York ER doctor during this pandemic

Danielle Stansky: If you could see my hospital, you would know the horror of covid-19

Thomas D. Kirsch: The nightmare of rationing health care

Jeremy Samuel Faust: Make this simple change to free up hospital beds now

Ruth Marcus: These are the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic

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