Can/should someone with a compromised immune system be a doctor?

Yet another story research question. As an adjunct to this previous thread, where I asked about possible child-to-teenager organ transplants, I decided upon a liver transplant for my almost-college-age character. Now obviously, organ recipients are required to take meds to help fight rejection, which in turn means that people with transplants are more vulnerable to infections.

And here’s the rub: This injured character was planning on going to medical school. Is this a bad career track for someone with a weakened immune system? What precautious would be necessary? How do doctors deal with fighting off illnesses when they’re dealing with them day in, day out?

As an aside, I’d actually like the worst-case scenario to be in place here: that the character is discouraged from his first-choice career as a result of this health trauma. (Juicier melodrama that way.) So if there are any ways to make this more of an issue–make his immune system more compromised or troublesome than normal, for some reason–that would be ideal.

Thanks to anyone who can provide help!

Doctors don’t have to treat patients. There are lots of doctors doing research who never come into contact with sick people.

And doctors wash their hands, a lot.

I don’t know the true answer to the question, but would it be enough for the people around the character–family members, guidance counselor, maybe even the hospital social worker/whoever leads the support group for teenagers who have received transplants from children–to assume this career path is no longer an option, whether it actually is or not? That might introduce additional conflict into the story, if the character later learns that these were misguided assumptions rather than advice based upon actual knowledge or fact.

Thanks Telemark and sweetie pea. Both of these are very good points. Actually it might be a good option to use a combo platter here; the character’s father (who is also a doctor and who’s always sort of pushed the kid into the medical realm) could be a bit torn between wanting to protect his son–oh, more background is that he lost a baby to illness before the current kid was born–but also wants to encourage the teen to follow through with his dream, and may suggest research as a good possibility. The son, what with being a young person whose life has dramatically changed, could be depressed about the major obstacle he’s faced and might be fatalistic about this possibility; he might think if he can’t be a ‘real’ patient-treating doctor, as he’d wanted to be, then he wants to give up altogether. There are certainly plenty of character development possibilities here.

I’d still be curious to know if GPs who are transplantees do continue to see patients, or if there are special precautions (other than just washing their hands a lot, natch).

Thanks again!

It would depend on what sort of medicine they want to go into. For example, infectious disease specialist with a clinical practice might be a bad choice. Elective plastic surgery, however, would be dealing with people who are largely healthy and non-infectious. As noted, there are also research and academic positions that would have minimal contact with infectious people.

Hi. I am a transplant recipient who is about to start residency. My doctors have no problem with it, nor did they have a problem with me going to medical school in the first place. However, I am not in the immediate post transplant period when immunosuppression is strongest.

There are certainly practicing physician who are organ transplant recipients.

If your character is in the immediate post-transplant period, or if he has had rejection problems post-transplant which requires him to be more heavily immunosuppressed than usual, that might be a reason for someone to be concerned about him pursuing clinical medicine.

My cousin was battling ovarian cancer and had chemo. Afterward she returned to work as a Hospice nurse. She visited homes around the county. She caught C.Diff about 8 months later. She was hospitalized with it a couple months and never fully recovered. It made the last couple years of her life miserable.

Can’t say for sure where she caught it, but her job and having a compromised immune system raised the risk.

While this is true, my doctor specifically told me there was no reason to avoid going into emergency medicine despite the ER being filled with nasty infectious bugs. On the other hand, my wife was happy when I ended up in a somewhat less infection prone specialty.

Remember that although transplant patients have weakened immune systems, the drugs used nowadays are a bit more specific than those used in the past. We’re not like AIDS or chemotherapy patients in terms of vulnerability to common infections.

Ah thanks Broomstick, aceplace57 and especially Shmendrik – even though you’ve spoiled that potential storyline, darn you. :slight_smile: The character in question is only 18 and hasn’t even started college, much less med school, so by the time of his residency (which, using my serial’s current rate of time passing, would be in, like, 2025!) he’ll be several years beyond the transplant.

But while bad for my story, it’s great that in real life the transplant isn’t an issue for you, Shmendrik. Congrats for starting your residency!

Well, even if this particular plot point is a non-starter, I can use it to make a realistic conversation between the guy and his parents and/or girlfriend.

I like your idea about transplant rejection issues, regardless of the fact that they probably wouldn’t hamper him from his medical goals. If possibly I’d love to delay him from going off to college next year (when I’ll have to move him off the canvas–I do have a fake local college in the fictional community where the serial takes place, but for realism’s sake the kid wants to go to Cornell) and some transplant-related health problems could at least delay the inevitable.

Now I’m off to look up post-transplant rejection symptoms! Thanks very much for the help, everyone.

(Of course, if anyone can think of some transplant- or surgery-related complication that would cause long-term issues that’d make the kid’s ideal medical career a tad risky, I’d love to hear 'em, no matter how rare. Hey, I’m basically writing a soap opera, rare is not a problem!)

No transplant as they weren’t available at the time, but the doctor who treated my mother’s pneumonia when she was 3 was very sickly; among other things, he had a heart condition and couldn’t do any strenous work, even something as simple as walk up too many stairs was a no-no (he could walk, tho): my grandfather would bring him up in his arms, all 5 floors (thankfully grandpa was tall and strong, and the doctor was small as well as sickly). His illness was what had gotten him interested in medicine in the first place. My BFF decided to get into medicine when she managed to give herself a bleeding stomach ulcer by popping aspirin for any pains and aches, and popping another one if the first (or second, or tenth) hadn’t worked. Of the people I know who chose to go into medicine when there was no previous medical personnel in their family, only one was not prompted by her own illness or that of a very close relative.

I think it may be something else to take into account, whether you spell it out or not (I actually like books where some things are evident without being spelled out).