Being a primary care doctor is an utter privilege

Being a primary care doctor is an utter privilege. Think of this post as part proclamation and part journal entry.

Yesterday afternoon I sent out this tweet:

Being a primary care doctor is an utter privilege

It was a spontaneous tweet in the middle of my 15 minute “lunch break” when I realized I still had hours to go in my clinical day. The motive was incredulity, not remorse or a need for pity. I was in a good spot–my frame of mind and perspective sharpened twice this week.

First, I’d had a discussion with clinic  leaders where we noodled around the upcoming fall where I will be traveling heavily and unfortunately away from clinic. We were discussing how to meet the needs of my patients while simultaneously meeting my need to contribute nationally. I reminded them how I’m unwavering in my adoration for my panel of patients and my commitment to caring for them. They nodded. You see, they know…..

Yet, so often people outside of clinical care and those who have never had the fortune to be a primary care doctor question why I still have a practice and panel of patients. They suggest that with the other work I do in health care, I should commit more time to those goals and less to my practice. Once, someone said to me that pediatricians were a dime a dozen and I needed to spend more time speaking and less time doctoring.

The thing is this: I went to medical school to learn how to counsel and take care of patients. I spent those longs nights of residency hopeful I would acquire the skills to know the science and the variance of normal well enough that I could do what I needed to help support and guide nervous families. And I really like practicing medicine. It’s a privilege to help. And as I’ve said before, I get so much more than I give while in clinic.

The second was a reminder from a stay-at-home parent about getting to stay at home with their child. In the mommy wars, this is one of the most bizarre conversations I have in my workplace; I suspect this is somewhat unique to pediatricians because we lend parenting advice all day long. Occasionally, moms and dads who have decided to stay at home to care for their child full-time will prosthelytize the benefits of their decision and their ability to care for their children. Often they’ll explain this in contrast to those moms and dads who juggle both work and family. There is sometimes a sense of superiority. At first, I used to startle in the face of those comments defining the inability to “do it all” and properly care for children while also maintaining a job or career.  Now, as my feet get more firmly placed and my heart more assured about my choices, I am only reminded how lucky I truly am. I get both–the exquisite opportunity to parent my two little boys with ungoverned love, and the stellar responsibility/true delight to care for and support hundreds of families every month. I get to help prevent illness, educate children and their parents, and I get to witness and observe the unique resilience of childhood.

So yes, thrilled to be in primary care. Rigorous, imperfect, and then everything I’m looking for in clinical medicine.

Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.

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  • Anonymous

    Pediatrics is very different from IM and FM.  Caring for kids is a compensating differential. 

  • Anonymous

    You like your job.  That’s good.  I like mine too, at least some of the time.  But peds is a different kettle of fish from IM and FM, with taking care of cute kids for well child visits and such being a kind of compensating differential, particularly for the women who are now the main source of labor for the specialty. Generalizing from peds to primary care is comparing apples and oranges. 

  • http://twitter.com/SeattleMamaDoc WendySueSwanson MD

    I believe Pediatrics is in primary care. And I disagree on some level with you can distill the job of a pediatrician down to caring for “cute kids”–although as you don’t necessarily understand what it is like to care for families of chronically ill children (and well children), I recognize I don’t understand your the intricacies of your job in IM and FM clearly either. Better than arguing that one of the specialties in primary care is easier or harder, would be listing the challenges of your job and what you think we could collectively improve.

  • http://expatdoctormom.com/ Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Dr Swanson

    Thanks for the beautifully written post.  I absolutely love practicing medicine(I am an FP) and feel it is a privilege as you do.  And yes Pediatrics is primary care!

    Unfortunately lately, I have met many doctors who are disgruntled with medicine.  If you peruse mommd.com you will see it all over the place.  I enjoy the other aspects: writing, blogging, and speaking like you do too!  But I don’t think I will ever give up my clinical practice!

    Regards,
    Rajka Milanovic Galbraith, M.D.