Adventures in staffing—a new physician

When a resident of student presents a patient with me and I help them formulate a plan, we call it “staffing” the case. Recently while I was staffing, I was presented with a patient who speaks little English, but speaks another language fluently. Unfortunately for us, this language wasn’t Urdu, Spanish, French, Romanian, or Hindi (languages spoken by the people immediately within my reach). The medical instructions we needed to give were fairly complex—too complex for Pidgin English, so I paged one of my interns.

“Hey, S.,” I said, “how well do you speak (insert little-known language here)?”

“Quite well, why?”

“Well, I have a nice older woman who speaks it as well, and her resident happens to be graduating. She could really use your care, both for your medical skills and your language skills.”

“You can put her in my schedule as soon as you need to. If there aren’t any openings soon, tell her to come right at 1pm and I’ll just see her before I start my clinic.”


It takes a lot to make a doctor. I’ve talked about teaching medicine: how to give bad news, how to help patients with difficult diseases, and I’ll probably write a lot more.

But some things aren’t taught—you just know them. My resident just knew the right thing to do. Despite her hellish schedule, she offered time to a patient in need. This behavior is not a given. It is the mark of a true physician.

One thought on “Adventures in staffing—a new physician”

  1. Back in college I took an abnormal psych class taught by a professor who was also an emergency room doctor and a farmer. Saturday nights we could assist in the ER in minor ways – this was 30 years ago in rural Tennessee – and observe. We saw that a lot of ER admissions had more to do with… abnormal psychology than with severe injury. He also let us see the trophies of his hobby, which was helping prosecute child abuse. (he’d say; “Want to see some baby pictures?”) For example, I learned what a “radial fracture” means in the arm of a small child.

    Anyway, he was listed in the hospital registry as a resource person for something like six languages, including one I never heard of, maybe Urdu. Over the years he’d been called in for every one of them, even the obscure one. How the hell an Urdu speaker wound up in the ER in Elizabethton, Tennessee in the 1970’s is beyond me. I guess you never know what will come in handy…

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