Pagers, medicine’s electronic leash

What is a pager?

For a very long time, it was the only way to get in touch with needed personnel, be they the call team, or doctors. Or, in the late 1980s into the 1990s, to get in touch with family, drug dealers and the like.

This is preemergence of the cell phone to dominate our lives.

The mobile pager allowed for doctors and nursing staff to live relatively normal lives, while on call. Or to allow one doctor to cover the hospital.

There are movies in which doctors are shown flashing their pagers, answering a page and leaving. Kind of like the bat symbol in Gotham.

It has been very useful. And convenient.

And lucrative for the people who run the pager companies.

I’ve had a pager in some capacity since 2002. I’ve had a cell phone since 2004.And that’s an entirely different post.

But pagers were created/invented to shortcut reaching out to someone for all sorts of reasons.

In my hospital, the reliance on pagers has been declining for years, matching the rise of cell phones. Heck, I have 90% of the cell numbers of the surgeons I work with. Allowing them to tell me about a surgical case, or me responding to their asks regarding future cases.

And texting. Most of the conversations to be had can be done over text.

Game changer.


What if the surgeon trying to get ahold of you doesn’t have your number and is just on call for the ER that night? And is a courtesy member of surgical staff, solely for call purposes? This is where the pager absolutely comes in handy. Allowing the not our surgeon to reach out to the nurse on call, bypassing the often messy communication with the nursing supervisor. All they have to know is one pager number and it will page all pager numbers associated with that number. This is known as the group page.

Last night I got a call from the supervisor that a PA, who I know for a fact knows the process, called her to book an emergency case. Okay, not the process but I’m on my way.

Prior to the case, I gave the PA a gentle reminder to call the pager and I would answer. He said the number didn’t work. Hmmm. Regardless, I reminded him that I am the call nurse Sunday-Thursday 2100-0700. And to go ahead and call me directly and I would start the cascade of notifications of everyone else. Instead of playing phone tag.

And he told me he never knows who is on call.

Oh, my head.

Prior to this job change the odds were VERY good it was me. And now, the odds are very good that it is me. At least 72% of the nights of the week, and I will re-direct a call outside of those days.

Do I have to wear a tee shirt that says “On call most nights”? Or “FIVE nights a WEEK”!


Do they think it is conversation like Prince Phillip and Aurora? You know when he asks this damsel he meets in the forest “When will I see you again?” To which she replies, “Oh, never!, never!”

Pager, cell, home phone (that no longer exists); there a lot of ways to get in touch with me.

I would much rather not be stuck at home waiting for a page that may or may not come.

You are not going to bother me, promise. I would rather answer a misdirected phone call than a surgeon get frustrated with the back and forth communication, or a patient not receive the care they need in a timely fashion.

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