Dr. Alice Huan-Mei Chen
It’s funny, because I pride myself on being a very evidence-based physician: What does the research show? What is recommended? But when you have kids, a lot of things happen that aren’t evidence based. I had twins, so it was a high-risk pregnancy. I was going to the doctor all the time, with weekly ultrasounds toward the end. I’m someone who never goes to the doctor, but my husband told me to just get a grip and be a patient. At the very end, my OB, who is wonderful, put me on a week of bed rest. I was just so over it. I was trying to make it to 36 weeks, but I had so much to do at work that I was not ready to take time off—I needed a plan for while I was gone. It was miserable. My husband finally relented on a weekend, put me in a wheelchair, and wheeled me into work.
My experience was nothing compared to being truly sick, but being pregnant and on bed rest, not knowing when you were going to deliver, was hard.
The whole time, I was looking up evidence supporting the value of bed rest and venting a lot to my spouse. I was a medical director of one of the large clinics at S.F. General, and I decided, I’m just going to make it to 36 weeks. When I went back to the doctor a week later, she examined me and said I could go out to dinner. So my husband and I went out for Ethiopian food, and at 4 a.m., my water broke. When I got to the hospital, I said, “Can I get a computer? I have to clear out my email queue and send out my out-of-office messages.”
As physicians, you spend years planning ahead because the training is so long. You plan to get into med school, then residency, then fellowship. So physicians tend to be high-control people. When you’re a patient, you just don’t have that control, and it can be a bit jarring.
In my role at San Francisco General, I think a lot about patient perceptions and the patient experience. If a patient is standing there waiting and two colleagues are chatting, it doesn’t feel good for the patient—even if the doctors have a totally legit reason to chat. Healthcare has been a very provider- and staff-centric system, and it’s been an interesting experience coming from the other side, primarily as a parent taking my twins to doctor visits. It’s very humbling being on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship—patients put up with a lot. Experiencing it as a customer has given me more appreciation for how we need to improve our systems. They really should be designed for the patient and not for the convenience of the doctors and staff.
More Doctors' Survival Stories:
Beating Breast Cancer with Help from Beyoncé
A Superhero Surgeon Brought to His Knees
After Dodging a Death Sentence, Looking for a Cure
From Pain, a New Purpose
Getting Back to Life After an Assault
Sometimes, It’s Not the Doctor Who Heals
Working Through Lung Cancer
Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco