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Why I Left Healthcare

It used to bother me that I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I made peace with that sometime ago. Growing up I ran through all of interesting careers. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL, a pro wrestler, a police officer, etc. Once I made it to high school, my mind was set on attending seminary and then film school. Of course, things change, and life doesn't always work out the way you have it in your head. Instead, I found myself struggling in retail jobs/customer service jobs most of my twenties.

By the time I was thirty, I was sick of making money for other people. I was frustrated with using my abilities to maximize profits and getting nothing for it. While managing at movie theater, my ability to move showtimes/films could sometimes generate an additional 10-20k a weekend. Did I see a penny of that? Did I even get a thank you? No, I was told to appreciate my $34,000 salary and fifty-hour work week.

The one thing that stayed constant was I had a drive to help people and that pushed me towards healthcare. I'd worked in a busy emergency room when I was 19 years old doing registration. Once I moved back to North Carolina, I wasn't able to find a hospital job, so I got stuck in that retail cycle. When I left the movie theater in 2013, I knew I wanted to get back into healthcare. I wanted to make a difference and be part of something that mattered. So, I got my CNA and found a job working at a local hospital.

The job was great, at first. My role was in four different departments:

1. I worked the front registration desk of the radiology department
This meant I checked people in, made appointments, and burned CDs of imaging for outpatients.

2. I transported patients
I would work evenings for the understaffed CT department and transported patients to speed things up.

3. I worked in the reading room
This is where the radiologists read films. My job was that of a secretary, sort of. See, the math is this: a radiologist makes more in 15 minutes than I'd make in a ten-hour shift. So, they'd pay me to basically sit there and do very little other than answering the phone or calling and getting other doctors on the phone. As long as I saved the doctor fifteen minutes over ten hours, they made out.

4. I worked in the file room
When I started it was transitioning from film to completely digital so there was less of a need for a specific file room person. Still, in this role, I'd gather imaging from outside hospitals and doctor's offices to help prep upcoming appointments. I was also in charge of preparing weekly conferences to discuss various cancer patients providing A/V support and all that.

It was a unique job that catered to my customer service skills and my tech skills. Eventually, the transportation job was eliminated, and we gained the ability to send images digitally over the cloud and that brought on new struggles and hurdles to overcome.

I thrived in this environment.

I felt important and I enjoyed working in a high pressured and fast paced environment. It checked off so many boxes for me. And if a patient offloaded on me, it was easy to shrug it off. They were in a hospital, today might be the worst day of their life, how could I take it personal?

I liked working as a team and I liked the occasional free time the job offered. I was also quite fond of the ten hour shifts I worked. So, why do I answer abusive phone calls and run a chat for a small government agency instead of working in healthcare? That's a question that was asked of me yesterday by a vendor at work and I guess my answer shocked him.

The doctors.

I grew up naive. I really thought what I saw on TV was true. I thought all military/law enforcement were honorable. That image was quickly shattered the first time I worked in a hospital, and I saw forty-year-old police officers sexually harassing the eighteen-year-old girls I worked with. It blew my mind. 

But spending ten hours in a dark room with one or two doctors shows you what really goes on behind closed doors and you find out rather quickly these doctors aren't there because of a calling or even a desire to help people. These aren't TV doctors. These doctors are here because of nepotism and for money, at least the majority of them.

When I say, over the course of my working career, where I worked retail at GameStop and even worked as IT contractor for the Navy, the absolute worst I was ever treated was in that reading room. The constant talking down, offloading, and just general terrible treatment. The lack of respect and kindness was astounding and even just basic human compassion at times. 

Most of my days were spent with one doctor blasting Jocko and other alpha male podcasts. I'll never forget watching him nod as the podcast host talked about how you should always walk in front of other people as the alpha. This is the same physician that was upset when a patient came in with a broken penis because he didn't know how to handle it. So, what did he do? The same thing a lot of the radiologists I worked with did, he hoped on YouTube. The number of doctors I saw that watched YouTube videos before going in and shoving massive needles into people because they hadn’t done it in fifteen years since med school (and a few times... ever) was scary, especially since it rarely went well. 

I spent time talking to my supervisor, as well as the  radiology department leadership over this treatment for the seven years I worked there. My concerns were ignored time and time again. Even when I requested someone to interfere and discuss how to communicate properly, that was dismissed. At one point, one of the partners of the radiologists (we contracted an outside group to do our studies/procedures) agreed to meet with me to discuss our relationship and he cancelled the day of and said I wasn't worth sitting down with. I guess, he thought I was somebody else when he agreed to it.

So, why do these doctors lack basic human abilities? Well, pretty much every one of them comes from a family of doctors. They were raised by nannies and maids, and they never  dealt with anyone who wasn’t there to worship them. Medicine wasn't a calling, medicine was a way to keep their lifestyle going. One physician I worked with, regularly flew to England every few weekends to attend Premiere League games. It was something he could brag about and show how little money meant to him. It was nauseating.

I won a Nursing Excellence Award, a first for my position and fought hard to make our department better. COVID struck and despite the challenges I kept things moving. There were talks of expansion and addition money or roles, but nothing ever came of it. The doctors wanted a bigger office. Then newer furniture and they blew through any money that could have been used to support the staff.

At one point I had a job offer from somewhere else and I took it to my supervisor. She informed me that I would be eligible for more money if I went back and filled out my application with every job I held. I had left off Blockbuster Video, because well... I was in high school and who were they going to call? I did so and was told I'd receive a forty-six-cent raise. I followed up on that raise for almost two years and it never came. The final time I asked, I was told she'd happily recommend me for the hospital's local mentorship group, as she thought I'd do great in public relations.

After receiving a one hundred on my job evaluation I walked into the reading room to be demeaned for the last time. I pulled up my browser and started applying and in March 2021 I received a call back from the unlikeliest of places. A small government agency that handles licenses for something I knew nothing about nor participated in. Still, my tech/customer service background was enticing to them, and I just passed three years of working here and I've received a raise every year from the State, plus I've moved up a couple of positions. At this time, I make almost double what I was making at the hospital. I received around $1.40 raise in my seven years of working at the hospital. My salary has grown almost $16k since I started with the State.

They used to call me about coming back and I even went back to chat with them once. I asked if they had figured out a way to have the doctors behave a bit better, and my former supervisor looked me in the eyes and said, "The doctors are the doctors, and they are untouchable." So, I thanked her and told her we had nothing further to discuss. The one person in department who is still working from when I was texts me often. He jokes that they still can't find anyone to replace me because people get in the role and quit within weeks. It's flattering, but it's also very sad. It really shouldn't be that way.

I don't think I realized how much I missed the hospital until this question was asked of me the other day. I mean, it filled my cup more than my current job and I enjoyed the work a lot more as well as the environment. I had a job I was proud of and a job where I was respected by my peers and went home each night feeling like I had made a difference. But the job also showed me how broken our healthcare system was and the folks we put on peddle stools can also be narcissistic jerks. In a way, I felt like I made a difference when directly dealing with patients and with a lot of my co-workers, but I also went home each night thinking about how I'd prefer to never see another doctor in my life. 

Of course, there were exceptions, a handful of good doctors here or there. Ones with authentic smiles and genuine care, but they were rare. 

I doubt I'll ever make it back to healthcare. It just doesn't make much sense financially for me, but I'm grateful for my time working at the hospital and the good folks I met there.