Patricia Walling is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She has professional and volunteer experience in a hospital environment and resides in Washington, USA.
When a patient is healed we tend to give most of the credit to the doctor or surgeon presiding over the case. The reciprocal is also true, as doctors generally bear the brunt of our blame when something goes wrong. However, is this really the way that we should look at the situation? There’s a lot more to medicine than the direct actions of a doctor. They are only a cog in the machine, an important one, but a cog all the same. When a loved one gets better, it’s just as much the result of behind the scenes work by dozens of other trained medical professionals working as lab technicians or in medical transcription. Yet, sadly they go often unnoticed and uncelebrated by us, mostly because we’ve never heard of them.
One part of the hospital staff we almost never see or hear about are the technical professionals who keep the hospital running efficiently. Where would a patient be if a doctor accessed a medical database and found it unavailable, if his or her notes remained locked away in miles of long-winded audio recordings or a prescription was filled with the wrong medication. IT and clerical staff are the oil that keeps the machine that is medical care running smoothly, but they are universally uncelebrated and their work marginalized. The only time you will see them on television is when they’ve caused a problem or in some way flummoxed a doctor. Though they are vital to patient care, lab technicians, pharmacists and medical transcriptionists are invisible to those they’ve helped save.
While this is particularly true of the technical staff, the shroud of obscurity hangs almost equally over the efforts of menial hospital workers. The kitchen, janitorial and housekeeping staffs are responsible for maintaining the healthy environment of a hospital. Without their contribution there would be no sterile operating theaters, healthy meals or clean beds; hospitals would begin to less resemble institutions of medicine, but rather 19th century sanatoriums.
Cooks and dieticians have it especially rough, as they must operate with severely thin budgets and yet manage to provide patients with diets that offer solid nutrition, can be eaten by those laboring under a weak constitution and conform to the specific dietary needs of patientsâ€”giving strict observation to allergies and conditions. These people are repaid with clearly undeserved slander: hospital food has an undeserved reputation for being inedible and disgusting without consideration for any of the facts.
Perhaps less ignored, but still under-appreciated are nurses, anesthetists and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). When the call button is pressed, it’s a nurse that answers it. When a surgeon is operating, an anesthetist is administering the medications to keep the patient unconscious and pain-free. When a patient emergency occurs, EMTs are the ones on the scene at a moment’s notice. Doctors are very busy and can’t be everywhere, and not all are trained to deal with a patient’s moment-to-moment needs: if the staff waited for the attending physician to arrive every time a crisis occurred there would be no time for him to do his job.
Doctors are the most important players in most people’s medical treatment, and they certainly deserve to be lauded. However, It’s plainly obvious that accolades are given in a less than egalitarian way; a myriad of other people play integral parts in hospital workings and personal healthcare. Wouldn’t the right thing to do be to spread our joy to the other members of the team?