This blog becomes increasingly personal, but mainly because there are some things that just infuriate me.
So, here it is. Outrageous statement of the week/month/year…
I’m a paediatrician, and I don’t have children.
Naively, I didn’t think this was important as say, listening to my patients and their parents; I didn’t think it would reflect my competence as a doctor. I didn’t believe that (some) of my colleagues would treat me as former Families Minister Sarah Teather has been treated by her colleagues.
But somewhere during my first paediatric job as an FY2, I was told quite distinctly that unless I was a parent, there was no way I could be a good paediatrician because I couldn’t understand how the parents felt. Having children, I was told, changes your perspective on things. It changes how you think as a doctor. I could only put myself in that parent’s place; understand how they were grieving for a child; accept totally their decisions if I had children of my own.
This sticks in my mind for so many reasons, but the two professional ones are these:
1. My patient is my patient. Not their parent. I know this is still a bit controversial in paediatrics, so let me clarify. Parents/families/siblings/friends – they are all hugely important in understanding about a particular child, and making decisions together is vital. But the thought (as suggested above) that I would change my practice because what a parent wanted would become more important to me than the wishes and needs of my patient is something that I find terrifying. (To put this into context, this was said during an end-of-life situation where the senior suggestion was that we kept going with futile therapy that was painful for the child because it would make things “easier” for the parents. No)
2. There is the suggestion that having a child of my own would somehow make me understand other children and families. Well, it’s 5 years down the line. I don’t have children. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children. I hope it hasn’t made me a worse doctor; I don’t think it would necessarily have made me a better one.
I might not know what it’s like to have children of my own; maybe I’ll never know.
But I know enough to know that each child is unique, and each family is special. Just because I might understand my own (hypothetical) child and their needs, doesn’t mean that I would understand every patient who comes through the door.
Children are special, and magical, and unique. They’re individuals. They live in families that are as individual as they are. And they deserve that we see them as the individuals that they are, rather than presuming that all children are the same, or that knowing one child intimately will somehow give you a special insight into a completely different one.
Maybe I would be a better doctor if I had children (seeing my friends, it would have to make me a more organised one!), but that really isn’t a good reason to procreate.
Whatever happens, I don’t want to lose the belief that I should treat each patient as an individual, even if they’re not an adult.
Because I will never be a child again. I will never “know” what it’s like to be rushed into hospital; to have smelly, noisy masks pushed on your face; to have needles in your arm; to be so utterly terrified that you’re too scared to ask what’s happening in this strange new world that you have no reference points for.
Having a child isn’t going to help me “know” that.
Listening to my patient, and remembering they are precious and unique will.