“I Enjoy the Humanity of It”: Q&A with Dr. Amy Douglas

Dr. Amy Douglas works in the emergency department at the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, also known as PVHMC.  She attended medical school at UC Irvine and volunteered in hospitals before earning her MD in 2010. Dr. Douglas spoke with the Beacon‘s Addie Blackmore in December about her career before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.    

AB:  What inspired you to become a doctor?  

AD:  There wasn’t one thing in particular. I thought I wanted to do it when I was younger; I actually thought I wanted to be an OB (obstetrics). People I knew I shadowed in high school in the ER. I’m curious about science and how the body works.  There wasn’t one incident, but I took care of my grandma a lot, including that I took her to her doctor’s appointments, so that exposure along with volunteering at a hospital helped. I had worked in a lab and I really liked that. there was a lot of different things I tried that pointed me in that direction.

AB:  What do you enjoy about being a doctor?

AD:  I enjoy the humanity of it; it’s a great opportunity to interact with people. I also like the procedural aspect. There’s a lot of things we get to do with our hands in the ER. I love the energy of the ER; it’s a very lively place. 

AB:  What is the hardest part of being a doctor, especially during COVID?

AD: In my particular job, the hardest is probably still the same. Before COVID, it’s always telling a family bad news, whether it’s a new diagnosis they find in the ER or when somebody dies and you have to tell their family members. It’s just harder with COVID because they can’t come in, they can’t be there when people are really sick. Managing your time is another thing that’s hard about my job, and that’s even harder now because there’s a lot of phone calls happening. Usually, someone’s at the bedside so they know what’s going on, but when they aren’t able to be there, you have to call people and give them updates about what’s going on. That’s difficult.

AB:  What have you noticed about the illness?

AD:  What I’ve noticed is that it has varying symptoms. The sickest patients are generally elderly people, but we are getting many different ages of people for serious disease.

AB:  How has COVID influenced your job?

AD:  In a lot of ways. Contrary to what you would think, it influenced my job by creating fewer work hours because fewer patients were coming into the ER, so they cut shifts, they cut pay, and now, as it’s gone up [in December], we’re back up to our full schedule. Number two is what you wear and the precautions you take.  I personally wear an N95 my whole shift, which is uncomfortable, but I don’t want to worry about whether I was wearing a mask or not and I saw a patient with it that I didn’t think had it and later I find out they do have it. Not just an N95, but then when you know somebody has COVID, gowning and ungowning adds a level of fatigue to the job that wasn’t there before. 

AB:  What are your opinions about how people have been reacting to COVID, including in our school district?

AD: That’s a tough one. I’ll just speak to the school part. I actually think the school has done a wonderful job with separating kids and taking precautions, especially at the elementary school level.  They’ve been really good at communicating, they’ve done a great job informing families. I think the higher levels have been less coordinated, but they’re also harder to deal with because there are so many kids with different classes.

AB:  How has being a doctor during these times influenced your personal life?

AD:  I would say being a person during this time has just made me more grateful for every little positive thing, but I think that’s true no matter who you are. I don’t know that there’s anything particular about being a doctor. I mean, I’m grateful for science, but I think most people should be.

AB:  What advice would you give to people regarding COVID? 

AD:  Right now (the pandemic) is so bad. People should wear masks when they’re out and when they’re not with their own family. Keep distance, but stay outside as much as possible, away from other people to get your exercise, wash your hands. It really hasn’t changed, but we are showing it matters right now.

AB:  What is one of your favorite memories from your career?

AD:  One of my favorite cases that I had, it actually got rewarded for the paramedics’ work on it, but it was a little kid. I think they were 18 months old, at the LA Fair, by my hospital. They had swallowed a bottle cap, so it got lodged in their airway and they were able to get to the kid in this huge, thousands-of-people crowd, get the kid in and out. We got [the bottle cap] out and the kid did fine, but it was fully, perfectly lodged in the airway.

AB: What are you future professional goals?

AD:  In the ER you deal with a lot of death and dying, and people who have not thought a lot about it or have but have been in denial. I think I would like to, on a community level, do some sort of education with teenagers, if they could handle it, or just adults, to help them know what happens when you suddenly have a family member brought in — that you have to have some decisions made or what to do in the event that someone is severely injured or gets severely ill unexpectedly. There’s a lot of people that just ignore that and don’t have a clue. What ends up happening is a lot of elderly people end up being kept alive, prolonged, with a lot of suffering, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that.