A Day In The Life Of A Primary Care Doctor

Candice Chen | Washington Monthly | July 1, 2013

A harried pediatrician tells her story.

I’m a primary care pediatrician in a clinic in Southeast Washington, D.C., that provides health care to a largely poor, urban, and underserved community. On Monday mornings, I look forward to going to work. I’m excited to see my patients—the babies, children, teens, and families I’ve watched grow up—and face the challenge of figuring out how best to help. I started working in this community during my residency training almost twelve years ago, and I’ve stayed here ever since.

As much as I love my work, however, my days are stressful and hectic and there is never, ever enough time. I start the day by looking at my schedule, which is typically booked full with patients scheduled every fifteen minutes, and the anxiety begins. My 8:30 a.m. appointment shows up at 8:44—just within our fifteen-minute late policy. By the time this family checks in and is in a room, it’s well after 9:00, and my later appointments have started to arrive. I feel the pressure of people waiting, but when I go into that first room, I can’t bring myself to rush this parent who’s worried about her child. I sit down, quiet my anxiety, and listen to what the parent has to say. Meanwhile, I’m trying to find out, what were the results of the emergency room tests? What were the results of the tests we ordered last time? What did the specialist do? I ask these questions, knowing that time is ticking.