Today, I went to the occupational health department to submit some pre-employment paperwork prior to starting my new job in August. As I was exiting the building, I walked past a young student nurse. He held in his hands a number of specimen pots containing bodily fluid samples and their accompanying request forms; I presumed that he had been sent from the ward to deliver them to the lab. He was dressed in his grey student nurse tunic, and looked immensely sweaty and uncomfortable as he braved the scorching sun and unbearable heat of the day to run this errand. Somehow, after seeing him, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of thankfulness for people like him who I work with: the oft-forgotten and seemingly insignificant members of our healthcare teams.
They do not have the knowledge and clinical experience to make medical decisions, and lack the skills to provide nursing care. They do not perform physiotherapy, and do not help plan the services needed to ensure that patients go home safely. They do not manage beds, nor do they sit in board meetings making decisions on how to develop and restructure the hospital. These are our seemingly dispensable colleagues- people who do not appear to contribute much to the team, and often seem to be in the way, creating more work or slowing us down.
Well, the answer is a simple no.
These people are in fact as important to the functioning of our teams as I am.
My head will be exploding from the frustration of having to answer the ringing ward phone every 30 seconds if not for the volunteer who sits by the desk and takes these calls in order for me to get some work done. The CSF, ascites, pleural fluid and blood cultures that I have taken from the patient will probably still be sitting by the nurses’ station if not for the student nurses or HCAs who take them to the lab. I will not have the necessary continuation sheets, charts and forms to write in or fill in if not for the ward clerk who kindly replenishes the stationery and puts paper in the printer. The ward will be a filthy mess if not for the cleaners who mop the floors, clean the sinks, and wash those teacups left behind by cheeky doctors who forget to clean up after themselves. Patients will be lying in their own blood, urine or faecal matter if not for the nurses and HCAs who roll them, clean them down and change the sheets. Indeed, I will probably be pushing patients’ beds into walls and pillars if not for the porters who actually know how to manoeuvre the beds as we transfer patients from one department to another. And, if the events of Wednesday are anything to go by, one patient would not have had black pepper to go with his meal if not for the medical student who spent 20 minutes in search of said condiment.
All too often, I think doctors big themselves up way too much. We like to claim credit for all the heroic work we do, yet forget to acknowledge the people who help us along in our attempts to “alleviate suffering” and “save lives.” If we are brutally honest to ourselves, we can achieve little without even the least of us, the seemingly dispensable ones of us. Today, I am challenged to remember the apparently insignificant people, to acknowledge the contribution of these unsung heros, to say “thank you for your hard work,” and in doing so, hopefully put a smile on their faces- because they deserve it.