Edit: Please note that I am NOT encouraging people to diagnose and treat their own health problems. I am NOT a supporter of Do-It-Yourself medical treatment. If you suspect you have a medical condition, please consult your doctor. I DO encourage people to become knowledgeable in their diseases and to understand their treatments, including diet and exercise.
My medical training teaches me how to search through a sea of scientific literature in order to diagnose a problem and formulate a treatment plan. In fact, medicine is all about becoming an expert problem solver, and our subject matter is one of the most complicated objects on earth: The human body.
Applying these skills outside of the hospital has already helped me save a few bucks. I call it Doctor-It-Yourself; the new DIY for medical students.
Here are two examples where thinking like a doctor has saved me some dough:
The car wouldn’t start. The engine would turn over, sputter, then promptly die. This was a year and a half ago on a cold January night. Luckily for me, the car was already in my garage, so I avoided an emergency tow truck expenditure. But I was at a loss for what to do. As my hand instinctively reached for my phone to call a mechanic, a sudden thought blasted into my mind: “You were smart enough to get into medical school! You are smart enough to succeed in medical school! You understand complicated biochemical pathways and mechanisms! Surely you should at least try to figure out this car problem before you pay someone else to do it for you, right?!”
In a flash of modern brilliance, I decided to consult the internet. At no other time in history has such a flood of free knowledge been so readily available. A quick search query of “reasons why a camry won’t start” gave me several ideas of what could be wrong. Based off of the descriptions, as well as a few youtube videos showing how different car problems present, I quickly diagnosed my car with calcium deposits along the butterfly valve in the throttle body. Three minutes earlier I didn’t even know what a throttle body was. Fast forward a few more youtube videos and I had a pretty good idea how to clean out a throttle body, thus avoiding a costly replacement of the valve. I hopped on my bike and disappeared into the frigid night to purchase throttle body cleaner at the closest auto shop. I am sure Mrs. DA was thinking, “Does he really think he can play mechanic?”.
By the time I arrived home with my purchase I was excited. Isn’t this exactly why I wanted to go into surgery?! To find a problem, diagnose it, and then use my hands to fix it?! I was stoked. I couldn’t convince my nursing-school wife to help me scrub in, but I put on my imaginary mechanic hat and went to work. Armed with a toothbrush, flashlight, screwdriver, shop rag, and throttle body cleaner, I propped my laptop on my car engine and let the internet guide me through the proper steps. 10 minutes later I slid into the front seat, turned the keys, and vrooooom! It worked!! I was elated! The cons of this doctor-it-yourself experience: It cost me a few hours in the evening and 10 bucks for the throttle body cleaner. The pros: I saved hundreds of dollars in a replacement valve and labor, my car was fixed that night, and most importantly I savored the victory of diagnosing and solving a real life problem; not just a fake scenario in a test.
The sink in our bathroom has two faucets, one for hot and the other for cold. One day something in the cold water faucet broke and I couldn’t turn the cold water off. The day it broke I was in a hurry, so I turned off the cold water valve under the sink. Due to the busyness of med school life and my own laziness, the sink remained in this state for several months. Mrs. DA and I got really good at washing our hands fast in the hot water. My landlord ok’d us calling a plumber to fix it (anticipating a $200 bill), but my pride once again reared it’s ugly head and said, “You’re training to be a doctor! Surely you can fix a sink!” So once again I put on my “Doctor-It-Yourself” hat and went to work. The beauty of the internet is that it can make you an expert in a field without formal education. Within 15 minutes of watching youtube videos I diagnosed my sink with a deficient canister that needed to be replaced. This is a $10 part that can be purchased at home depot. So I ran to home depot, then gathered my tools in the bathroom (pretending all the while that I was working in an operating room), and went to work. Within 30 minutes the sink was fixed, for a fraction of the cost.
Will there be times you run across a problem that requires an expert? Sure. We had an electrical problem in the house that I didn’t dare touch myself. And as a doctor there will definitely be patients that will be better off with a referral to a cardiologist than having you trying to tinker with their meds. However, learning to fix problems outside of your official comfort zone will not only save you money around the house, but will prepare you to be a more thorough physician. It will give you the confidence to tackle hard cases and be willing to dig through the literature in order to understand a new disease or complication.
So learn to Doctor-It-Yourself! You’ll save some money at home, and you may just be a better doctor for it.