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Bouncing Back: What ‘The Resident’ Got Right

Ho, Amy Faith, MD

Emergency Medicine News: July 2018 - Volume 40 - Issue 7 - p 5
doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000542252.15712.9c
Bouncing Back

Dr. Ho is an emergency physician and a writer and national speaker on health care, health policy, and medical humanities. Her work has been featured in Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, KevinMD, TEDx, and many more. She is also a member of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine Wellness Committee. Visit her website at amyfaithho.com, and follow her on Twitter @amyfaithho.

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Doctors are outraged. But about what? The state of the ACA? Unbridled health care costs? Deported DACA doctors?

No, about Fox's new show, “The Resident,” featuring a diverse lineup of the rebellious but talented baby House, a senior resident played by Matt Czuchry, a bright-eyed intern, an intuitive and talented nurse, and an unsavory but esteemed chief of surgery. (https://fox.tv/2GnI38J.)

I'll admit it, I only watched the show after I saw Twitter explode with angry #TheActualResident comments following the show's premiere. Yes, “The Resident's” depiction of a central line procedure was abysmal. No, senior residents do not run around hospitals haphazardly turning off life support on patients. Yes, the anatomical basis for their medical cases is complete cockamamie at best. And, no, you cannot walk around with a stethoscope in your perfectly sagging bad-boy jeans and not have it fall out (looking at you, Matt Czuchry).

Doctors were angry to be portrayed as an unsupervised gaggle of rag-tag junior doctors making life-and-death decisions unilaterally. They were angry that those in hospital leadership were depicted as financial prostitutes with a penchant for attention and a deficit of clinical acumen. They were angry that complicated medical procedures were reduced to inaccurate close-ups of glinting metallic instruments.

We felt caricaturized and insulted, and justly so.

But perhaps our response was so visceral because we felt uncomfortably outed. We entered medicine with the dream of helping others, doing good, and, yes, sometimes even the melodrama of saving lives. Our wellness suffers when we are blindsided by the many other influences and powers-that-be that sometimes dictate our actions in ways we don't see fit.

Our job is a complicated one, and some themes in “The Resident” are actually resoundingly, absolutely true. In the opening episode, we see the senior resident tell his protégé intern, “This is the best job in the world, in spite of everything...because of everything.”

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That Everything

It really is that “everything”—that je ne sais quoi—that makes being a doctor so special. It is one that we, as physicians in the house of medicine, are all privileged to be a part of, but also sometimes cursed to have to bear witness to. We struggle daily with issues of life and death. A scene where the intern saves a young girl's life but condemns her to life as a vegetable? We've all had that moment of conflicted success yet everlasting guilt.

We grow in medicine not only when we master the skillsets of being a doctor but also when we see the conflict and meaning embedded in every decision we make. Life as a career physician is rules, guidelines, metrics, and yes, dollars. Health care is ultimately a business, and we are but one of the many products sold.

The indignant rage the resident harbors against The Man? We've all seen when financial interests muddle the purity of medicine. We try to be the shining knight in the midst of it, but sometimes, ashamed as we are of it, the bad guy does win.

We also have all lived through and continue to live in a hierarchy of medical training that is so abusive and entrenched in our culture that our young physicians are killing themselves at alarming rates. (The Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2018; https://wapo.st/2GlpJkF.)

We've all worked those 30-hour days, our brains and bodies flayed within an inch of collapse. We've watched while the senior “chief” took credit for our grueling work. We've been cast aside to do the scut work and have been emotionally whipped like the workhorses we emulate. These truths are life as we know it. We experience them often and isolate ourselves within them.

From the very beginning, our choice of career was jarringly inaugurated when we were handed a dead body and a scalpel on day one of medical school for mandatory cadaver lab. Our reality is so markedly different from others' jobs that we naturally can become detached from the rest of the world. We exist and thrive in a universe housed in linoleum and fluorescent lighting, a cold backdrop for the orchestra of blood, tears, and fecal matter that we find fascinatingly repulsive and unspeakably beautiful at the same time.

But there is hope because at the end of the stark white hospital hall is light and purpose. We find resilience in reminders of why we chose to do what we do. It's grueling at times, terrifying at times, unbelievable at times, but the impact we get to have—that je ne sais quoi—so intensely shakes us to the cores of our souls that we come back for more, shift after shift.

“The Resident,” for all its many medical faults, helps us bridge the gap. It cracks the door open for a greater audience to peer in on our reality. It makes our world just a bit less alien, it sheds just a sliver of light on the gravity and gore that we see daily, and it shares the hope and honor that most of us feel. At the end of the day, we are so blessed to be able to be a part of this machine at all.

It really is the best job in the world, in spite of everything...because of everything.

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