They Are One of Us

The topic of doctors becoming patients has been discussed by many writers over the years. There is even a book called “When Doctors Become Patients.” I have seen my share of clients who were healthcare professionals. What has fascinated me more in recent years, however, are healthcare professionals who also serve as family caregivers.

Surgeons are not supposed to operate on their family members. Psychologists don’t treat family and friends. Those lines are clearly drawn. But when you are advocating for a loved one as a family member within the healthcare system, your professional status and knowledge may not always serve you well.

It can be a challenge for everyone. Some of the family caregivers I greatly admire happen to be kind, knowledgeable, and giving souls in the field. Unfortunately, many of us have also been haunted by some healthcare professionals/caregivers that make us really “nervous.” In fact, some of my coworkers have openly discussed how they dread meeting with an adult son or daughter who is a physician or a nurse.

It isn’t easy to be that caregiver either. For one thing, it is not uncommon for us to expect a lot more from caregivers from a healthcare background. “If she can be this kind and patient with her clients, why can’t she be the same with her own father?” (The simple answer is that “IT IS A DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP!”)

I haven’t taken a serious look at whether researchers have addressed this, but next time when you encounter a family caregiver who is a healthcare provider, just remember they, too, are human. They deserve the same level of compassion, encouragement, and understanding, even when they are not showing you their best selves sometimes. Put yourself in their shoe. It may happen to you some day.

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About C

If you consider volunteering at a luncheon for older adults as my first exposure to the field, I have been in geropsychology for at least twenty years. As family, friend, volunteer, trainee, and professional, I have found myself in adult day care centers, senior centers, senior living facilities, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric wards, hospice, and personal homes of older adults. Wherever I go, be it an orphanage, a museum, a prison, an airport, or a random corner in the neighborhood, issues related to aging and mental health often come to mind. I used to think that I could make a difference only if I became a top-notch researcher, educator, or clinician. As I continue to follow this meandering path, it dawns on me that as a nobody in the field, I can still add my light to the sum of light by sharing what I know. Over the years, I have "converted" a few very dedicated individuals to focus on aging-related work within their respective disciplines and encouraged a handful more to stay in this field despite its winding course. I believe by bringing aging and mental health issues to the foreground, we will amass a stronger force to promote advocacy, research, and quality care.
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