Health Care Hero (It’s Not What You Think)

I work in healthcare. I work on the front lines. I work on the COVID positive unit in my organization. I had my own bout with the coronavirus. I AIN’T NO HERO!! Don’t call me one either.  

My favorite all-time band Metallica has a song called “Hero of the Day.” In this song, the lyrics go something like “Just like the curse, just like the stray, you feed it once and now it stays.” This could be interpreted in any number of ways. One way I see it is consistent with an unnamed World War II Combat Veteran, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, and how he sums it up. He didn’t consider himself a hero either. His quote that I read somewhere but can’t seem to find, is something like this: “if a hero is so few of us, then it can’t be all of us!”  He refused to allow people to call him a hero. This was in reference to how society, since 911 and the subsequent 20 years of war, tends to call anyone and everyone in military uniform a hero. The lyrics of the song liken this to a curse that once it starts, it can’t be undone. Now everyone is a hero. The WWII Veteran tried to warn us about this. By calling everyone a hero, it diminishes the nature of a true hero as it is defined in Merriam-Webster: 

  1. a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
  2. an illustrious warrior
  3. a person admired for achievements and noble qualities
  4. one who shows great courage

I’m also a Combat Veteran and absolutely hate it when people say the word hero to anyone and everyone in uniform. I’m not a hero in that regard either. Some will wear the title in self-adulation, but most Veterans I know hate it. There are true heroes among us, but by calling everyone a hero, it cheapens the real meaning of the real heroes. 

Now we have a new societal hero curse rising: Healthcare heroes. Does doing your job in healthcare somehow make you a hero? Does donning PPE appropriately make you a hero? Doing what you’ve done all along and should have always been doing all along, does that somehow make you a hero? Is doing your job that you were educated and trained in make you a hero? Is it that society, in times of peril, somehow needs a hero to hold onto, maybe to garner some kind of hope? Do some people need a participation trophy or something to ease their own insecurities? Not trying to be negative, but I hate the notion that now anyone and everyone who works in healthcare is a hero. There are heroes that walk among us in healthcare, and they are usually humble. But again, the notion that everyone is a hero, diminishes the true heroes among us. By the very nature of the definition, there are actually few of us that would even qualify as a hero. So, therefore, how can it be all of us? 

I’m not trying to be negative, and I apologize if anyone takes this with negativity, or gets offended, but let’s be real for a minute. I’m sure we all have heroes in our lives, people we admire for various reasons, and those of whom we could never ever measure up to. Think of those that meet the definition above of being a hero and search your soul, is that you? Maybe better terminology is ‘courageous,’ or ‘cautious.’ Courage is defined as going forward in the face of fear. There is lots of fear surrounding the COVID-19 situation, and healthcare workers do go to work in the face of fear, but I don’t believe this in and of itself to be heroic. By the nature of your job, it requires courage and to be cautious.  I know I am afraid every day in working with patients. This keeps me safe and cautious. Did I prescribe the right drug? Did I do the right intervention? Did I discharge the patient too soon? Did I violate patient rights? Did I do harm? Did the drug I prescribe do more harm than good? Did what I did or didn’t do contribute to the patient’s death? Will this COVID thing lay me up again? None of this requires heroism. 

“if a hero is so few of us, then it can’t be all of us!”  

God Bless the REAL Heros!

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Robert Duprey MD

Robert is a 2nd career physician (MD); a combat Veteran with the US Army; a former psychiatric nurse practitioner; an independent researcher; a medical writer; and now having passed USMLE Steps 1, 2CK, 2CS, and 3, is a residency applicant. 

  2 comments for “Health Care Hero (It’s Not What You Think)

  1. Pat
    May 12, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    Very, very well said. The media religiosity applies to the military over the past couple of decades is now lathered on health care.

    But it won’t stop the new wave of malpractice suits aimed at physicians and hospitals, so it’s all a lot of BS.

  2. Jesse L Belville Jr,PA-C
    May 12, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you,Dr.Duprey
    I too am a veteran 19 months in Vietnam,Combat Medic. Found a lifelong career when I read about PA program at Duke University,for former military medic’s. Became a PA-C in Primary care,went back on active duty for 8 years as a PA-C,went to Grenada,3 days of combat,lost seal team,17 friendly fire casualties. I was the medical officer for the 1/508th Airborne Infantry battalion with 30 medics to train.3rd Brigade. All taught lessons.. I DID my JOB. Nothing heroic,Took care of a couple GSW’s,one an accident,. Glad to get back to Ft.Bragg , my wife and kids. Did my job,my medics did their jobs. Nothing heroic. Just doing our job.
    In Vietnam,I got in country and spent first 2 months digging ditches,filling sandbags,reading medic manuals. when a slot came open for a field medic position,I volunteered for it. Recon. Nothing heroic,just looking after my recon team and making sure they took their malaria pills,got their VD treated before the next mission,shots up to date. Nothing heroic just doing my job.. I learned so much and got a love of medicine and service to my fellow humans. A nice paying job and lifelong career. 43 and 1/2 years as a primary care PA-C Thank you for voicing what so many of us feel. Much overused Hero. Just someone doing their job,as best they can.

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