Frankly speaking…

I have been cracking my head wondering what to write this month. Truth is, I am not a winter person. Everything in my life literally freezes. My brain is no exception. So I finally decided to settle on a “light hearted topic”. I have decided to let you in on what doctors gossip about during lunch at conferences. Let me let you in on some stuff your doctor either isn’t keen to tell you due to fear of “being seen as human” or being labelled as unprofessional. Now I urge you to keep calm, grab a cuppa something and put on your laughing cap as I take you through a day in my life.

Quick disclaimer: What I am about to share is not a generalisation, but I am willing to bet that a lot of my colleagues identify with some of what I am about to say. And I remind you again to keep calm as you take a journey in my boots! Look at this as me giving you tips on doctor’s rooms etiquette and also “what would doctors say if they could”? No offence to anyone intended.

I don’t think I have ever introduced myself properly: Hi, My name is Lerato Masemola, (call me Dr Lerato). I am a general medical doctor in private practice, (a GP if you like). I am also a mother of two children, a girl aged 7, and a son aged 5. I’m also a daughter and a sister. Now as you can see, I am a human being, just like you!! I was not born with a white coat on my back and a stethoscope around my neck.

I will forever wonder why people put doctors in certain boxes and REFUSE to see that we, too, are humans and have struggles just like every other person. Below are the top 5 things that absolutely annoy me (and probably your doctor too), in no particular order:

#1. People assuming “Doctors are wealthy and therefore it’s okay to ask for freebies”.

  • Firstly, unless all doctors are private specialists (in Jo’burg) this is NOT true. I once paid a locksmith R800 for a “3minute job”. If he does 10 jobs a day (total 30 minutes actual work) at that fee, well, you do the maths.
  • Secondly, it baffles me that people will try to get free medical advice / treatment disguised as a “quick question”. This not only annoys most doctors at work, but also at social gatherings. People would rather start stripping in full view of others at a braai, to show us their nasty medical conditions just to avoid paying a consultation fee. Yes, even your doctor friend feels the same. Being a doctor is how I earn my living, it’s not a hobby. I have a bond and car repayments, and two kids to put through school and university. How would you (insert your profession) feel if I constantly asked for free advice instead of paying for your time, skill and knowledge? Next time I go to a party I’m taking my ailing laptop and accosting the first IT guy I come across to tell me what’s wrong with it and see what they say.
  • This goes hand in hand with “I know what is wrong with me, just give me “X” anti-biotic” (and charge me for a script only). — Well, NO! For many reasons really, but mainly because when I sign a script for you, I am taking responsibility for what happens to you once you swallow that medication. And I must JUST do this without getting a history of the ailment and examining you. And if something goes wrong you run to your lawyer FIRST before you come to me. No. FULLSTOP.
  • Another one is: “I / my other child etc. have the same symptoms, can I just get a script for the same medication (without paying consultation)”? — Please don’t ever ask this, it is beyond insulting. When in a restaurant and your kids order same food, you don’t pay for only one plate. So, NO.
  • Lastly: “can I get a discount?”. — Yes, sure, why not. As long as I can examine you and not tell you what’s wrong / diagnose you and NOT give you a prescription. When you buy a loaf of bread, do you ask to pay for two slices only? I don’t think so. So again, NO.

#2: “My GP can fix all my medical problems” (including save my marriage, fix my primus stove, my leaking roof, my car etc.). — No. I don’t know everything and I don’t treat everything. I will do PAP smears, male circumcisions and everything else in between. Please don’t ask me to take out your child’s tonsils in my rooms because your GP took yours out in 1960. I am allowed to open my reference books as well. If it is okay for lawyers to refer to literature before giving you advice then it is okay for me to refresh my memory especially on those things which I don’t treat every day. Remember I am human. You are only allowed to doubt clinical expertise if I open a book to look up flu symptoms.

#3: “My Medical aid means I never have to pay the doctor anything / will my M.A cover this”.  — Long story short: I cannot wait for the day when it is compulsory for patients to deal with their own medical funders. Imagine how many funders there are, it is near impossible to know all rules and benefits of all these funders. It’s a patient’s responsibility. I don’t blame those doctors who have decided to run cash practices. I’m a natural sucker, and because my heart still bleeds for my patients, for now I am still submitting claims, at MY cost, and getting paid less than MY cash rate. Because the world will end if your medical aid pays R30 less than my fee and you have to pay the difference. You’d rather spend that money on your next (insert indulgence of choice).

#4. “Who needs a doctor when you have Dr Google?”. — Well, until Dr Google can give you a prescription I will keep my doors open. Thanks.

#5. My grandmother / father/ son etc is sick at home. They have (insert symptoms). What do you think is wrong with them?”. — You know, I wish “General” also included divine healer/ psychic or had floor XRay (bones) I could help but no, sorry, I can’t help you. Answer to this is “bring them in for consult”!

In conclusion, the times we live in today can sometimes make it extremely difficult for someone like me to have a thriving business. There are many “fake” practitioner competitors (who will just sell you that Google script), lawyers are always trying to sue us for merely existing (or because they too believe we are wealthy), patients think they are also doctors thanks to Google University of Medicine.

Alas, I love what I do. My parents made me (yes they were old school like that) but in their own wisdom (or living vicariously through me) they picked the perfect profession for me and I wouldn’t do anything else!

Till I see you in my rooms, Take Care :-)

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