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No One Is Supporting the Doctors

I have ceased to expect appropriate help from administrators, institutions, and the government itself.

Medical staff seen after the arrival of a Chinese woman to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem over suspicions she may be infected with the coronavirus, Jan. 27, 2020. Photo courtesy of Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center
The Atlantic

I trained for this moment. All emergency-medicine physicians did. Residency training—the notorious gantlet that turns medical students into attending physicians—prepared me to manage an onslaught of patients entirely on my own. I may be ready, but that doesn’t mean the situation I’m in is right.

At Bellevue Hospital, where I trained, New York’s most disenfranchised patients come through the doors at every hour of the day. While my attendings taught me to diagnose appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, and multiple sclerosis, they also watched me fail. They watched me struggle to keep up with the pace of the department, to remain calm when patients would mock my race or sexual orientation, to cope with my own emotional reaction to the destitution, hunger, and loneliness that so many patients take as a given. The directive throughout was that I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps. No one would do it for me or teach me how.

So why should I or any physician have expected more than a meaningless cacophony of messaging at this exceptional time of need? President Donald Trump has promised Americans access to testing. And yet, before the state of emergency, the New York City Department of Health mandated testing only for admitted patients. As a physician, I was stuck in the middle, left to absorb the ire of patients who accused me of being uncaring. They did not want to hear from me that they had been lied to, that the system did not have the capacity, and that they needed to come back when they were even sicker for treatment.

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