As I write this post a frail sickly patient awaits anxiously by the phone for a call from her doctor that will never come. Every day, countless people leave their physicians office angry, confused, and feeling abandoned. Yet when I think back to my medical school class, I feel nothing but pride. I couldn’t imagine a more caring, conscientious group of young learners.
I remember my fellow residents working long hours. They abandoned their families to sit at the side of a dying patient or catch up in the library. We were entering a solemn profession, signing a covenant with humanity. A decade later I struggle with the disconnect. I don’t know how to integrate who we were with who we have become.
Most physicians today feel like they are continuously under the gun. Lambasted by insurance companies, petrified by medicare regulations, we struggle to follow a vague set of proclamations that carry dyer consequences. We cower in fear of malpractice attorneys, and bear the brunt of the emotional and physical turmoil of our patients. We have mastered the art of duck and cover.
But the problem with always feeling like your dodging bullets, you lose the ability to help your patients do the same. The poor swimmer who frantically treads to keep his head above water could never save the drowning man flopping in front of him. Self preservation has ousted patient care in hierarchical primacy.
We all find different ways to deal with the stress. Some escape in search of the next rainbow and pot of gold . Many who remain physically in the field have left emotionally. The covenant is broken.
I can no more blame our reality on the public, than I can on those innocent medical students who enter the hospital with such hope. Day after day our patients are getting the short end of the stick
Our nation as a whole, or our physicians must rise together and make a stand. Barring such an occurrence, the systemic desensitization of this mighty profession will continue.
While the doctor will be available to see you, empathy will have left the building.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.