I recently overheard a practicing physician on Twitter characterize herself as a scientist. It was in the context of countering an alternate health claim. I think she was suggesting that her training allowed her to understand evidence.
While understanding science is important for physicians, I would never insult my scientist colleagues by referring to myself a scientist.
But it’s easy to see how we can be confused. Early physicians doubled as scientists. 21st century physicians are trained with the same curriculum as way back when. And modern physicians carry on the tradition with lab coats that propagate the illusion that doctors are scientists. Modern day academic centers are rooted in research and support true physician-scientists. However, the average 21st century practicing physician is not a scientist.
So this self-identification of doctor-as-scientist got me thinking: How would I characterize what I do? What would I call myself?
Here’s what I came up with after a little thought:
My work is about translation and connection. I do some technical things but my work is beyond that of a technician. While my specialty is narrow and increasingly reductive, the needs of my patient population are broad. I treat a few variations of a few diseases. Little of my work is about brilliance or intellect. Since training my day-to-day work involves the identification of clinical patterns, the careful application of technology, judgment in interpretation and therapeutic approach, translation and ultimate negotiation using shared decision making. I help parents of children with acute and chronic digestive diseases navigate the landscape between their child and a medically complicated world. I help them negotiate the transition between life with a chronic condition and the healthy development that can create some semblance of a normal life.
Patterns. Communication. Translation. Negotiation.
This is how I see what I do when I go to work in the morning. It’s the foundation of my calls at the end of the day.
It’s a far cry from the work of a scientist. And I’m good with that.