Monday, December 24, 2012

The unsung heroes of medicine

By Dr. Anthony Youn, CNN Contributor
updated 7:19 AM EST, Fri December 21, 2012

Editor's note: Dr. Anthony Youn is an assistant professor of surgery at the Oakland University/William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan. He is the author of "In Stitches," a memoir about growing up Asian-American and becoming a doctor. The names of the doctor and patient in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

(CNN) -- I once had a doctor tell me, "Physicians get all the glory and all the money."

While that's not necessarily true -- nurses get quite a bit of recognition in health care -- most people don't realize just how many people it takes to save a life.

I was struck by this one night as a resident on the trauma service. Here's how I recall it:

The double doors to the emergency room slam open. A pair of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) wheel in a young man on a gurney.

"Eighteen-year-old male named John, involved in head-on collision. Brief loss of consciousness. He complains of chest and abdominal pain."

The EMT's, two trauma nurses and I move John over to the bed. One nurse begins cutting off his clothes with a huge pair of shears; the other connects him to the monitors.

A phlebotomist draws blood from one of his arms to send to the laboratory for analysis. A respiratory therapist applies an oxygen mask and monitors his breathing.

We've all heard the old African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it takes a village to save a life, too. Kim and I needed more than 20 people working as a team to save John. Take one member out of the equation and he likely would have died.

So why do "physicians get all the glory?" We may be the decision-makers, but we don't deserve all the credit. The unsung heroes of medicine -- members of the health care team other than doctors and nurses -- should be recognized, too.

So this holiday season, consider thanking the unsung heroes of your local hospital. Send some cookies to the respiratory therapists, pizza to the radiology technicians, and cupcakes to the phlebotomists. They deserve it just as much as we do.

Maybe more.

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