“Doctor, do you have kids?” I used to cringe whenever a parent asked me this just as I would begin discussing treatment options for their ill child. I believe what a parent is really trying to ask is whether or not I possess the compassion to treat their child with the utmost care. Early on in my career, I took offense to this perceived jab at my abilities and professionalism. It was as if not having children of my own was a “ding” against me.
But I get it. I too would raise my eyebrow if I was assigned an overweight dietician or a thrice divorced marriage counselor. I mean, how much could I possibly trust someone who doesn’t have personal experience?
I would argue that being a pediatrician and being a parent are two very different professions. I use the word “profession” because being a parent is hard work. It requires a diverse skill set including (but not limited to) patience, discipline, a tireless motor, a youthful playfulness and compassion. The word compassion is defined as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” If I were to draw a Venn diagram of the skill sets of a parent and a pediatrician, where the circles overlap is compassion.
I believe anyone that has felt love for their fellow human beings is capable of the compassion needed to be a pediatrician - or any other kind of physician for that matter. That’s why there are many excellent male gynecologists, female urologists and cardiologists without heart disease. It is not our personal experience that defines our capabilities, but our compassion for others that fuels us to treat our patients to the best of our abilities.
Now, where the pediatrician circle does not overlap with the parent circle is Clinical Experience. While a parent may see as many as 4-5 different rashes on their child through the years, or in the case of a child with eczema, lots and lots of one kind of rash, in my 14 years of training and five years of post-training practice, I have seen hundreds of rashes. More importantly, I am able to look at each child objectively and correctly perform an emergent procedure if that is what is required to save that child’s life.
I think a more valid question would be: “Doctor, can you take care of my child and do whatever is needed, including a potentially painful procedure, in an effort to save their life?” As of yet, I have never been asked this. But should that day ever come, I will be proud to say, “Yes, I can.”
I also know my limits. I recall during residency when my supervising clinic attending asked me if I had spent any time counseling a newborn’s mother on breastfeeding techniques. I stared blankly at her and had nothing to say. I then observed my supervising attending, herself a mother of two children, educate this new mother on ways to stimulate the baby to latch and suck effectively. It was fascinating, but also completely foreign.
I will be the first to admit that I will never know the struggles of breastfeeding. When a mother comes to me with breastfeeding concerns, I know better than to fumble through textbook answers on how breastfeeding “should” go. I defer to the experts - lactation consultants and mothers who have breastfed.
So, the next time you seek care from a pediatrician, before you ask him or her if they have kids of their own, ask yourself, “Does it really matter if this doctor has kids as long as they possess the skills and compassion to treat my child?”
If you are a parent, how do you feel about this topic? Let us know in the comments below.