Can doctors learn medicine from physician lounges?

I just finished rotating at a community hospital where one of the most interesting things I’ve enjoyed is stopping by the Doctor’s Lounge. I can always count on a getting coffee there and hearing some good conversation – doctors asking for input on interesting cases, laughing, sharing stories, both personal and professional, and catching up on each other’s busy lives. In fact, I ran into an old friend of mine who I had not seen in some time and we caught up on each other’s lives in the Lounge.

I started to wonder why I found the presence of a Doctor’s Lounge so interesting. I realize it was because the hospital that I routinely work in does not have one. Yet, that was not always the case. I have fond memories of gathering with my medical colleagues sharing conversation over a warm meal. In medical school, the cafeteria had a “special” Doctor’s area with free soup and crackers – a VERY big deal for a medical student! I think I spent my entire year subsisting on that free soup.

In residency, one of my favorite places to eat was the Doctor’s Dining Room. A sea of white coats would gather in a room with wood walls decorated with large framed portraits of luminaries past to give it that ‘academic appeal’. Of course, medicine sat at one table and surgeons at another – but a lot of important business took place in that room that advanced patient care. After all, it was a place where you may run into the Infectious Disease consult resident and beg them for approval for the superdrug that would treat your patient’s superbug.

Better yet, the “curbside” where you could feel like you weren’t adding to cardiology fellow’s workday but still get some guidance on whether you were reading and treating the rhythm strip correctly. (Of course, it did not hurt that at night, they also had free cakes for the residents on call.) Then one day, towards the end of my internship, I found out that they were getting rid of the Doctor’s Dining Room. Why? The answer was they needed the space for patient families — and of course no one would ever argue with that. It is now the Same Day Surgery Family Waiting Room. I understand the need for families to gather and wait patiently for news of their loved one. I’m all for patient-centered, but doctors need space to gather and talk too.

In trying to look for any other stories about Doctor’s Lounges online, I am struck by two themes – “the Death of the Doctor’s Lounge” – due to time, workload, reimbursement, budget cutbacks, and the usual long laundry list of other woes in medicine today.

But, I also saw references to the emergence of a “new” kind of Doctor’s Lounge — a modern day technological version through online physician communities that provide a social network for physicians to ask clinical questions and share cases (like Ozmosis or Sermo). While I am a big fan of social media, I also miss the days where doctors had a safe place to gather, converse, and meet in person.

Vineet Arora is an internal medicine physician who blogs at FutureDocs.

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