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.
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.
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.