As Americans, we love to associate with groups. More than that — we love to plant ourselves in a group, stand firmly in our decision, and then adamantly refuse to budge or to see the other party’s perspective.
Pro-life. Pro-choice. Democrat. Republican. Pro-Obamacare. Anti-Obamacare.
I suppose for all of us, myself included, it is easy to identify with our group of choice when we are sitting at home watching or reading our news source of choice. It is easy to stand firmly in our decision when we are in the comfort of a two income family with adequate health insurance and ample preventative care. It’s easy.
However, what do we do when faced by the devastating spectrum of inequality in health care that is so prevalent in the United States today? It is far less easy to classify one as a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, and to embrace all of the associated beliefs and tenets when someone is sitting in the room in front of you crying because they can’t afford health care.
It’s far less easy to be so firm in our convictions that we are unwilling to move when we are telling the sunburned, hardened construction worker that the treatment that saved his life isn’t going to be covered by his insurance. It is far less easy to be convinced that we — regardless of whatever umbrella we use to classify ourselves — are right when the patient in front of us is being rushed to the emergency room, near death, while weeping because they know they can’t afford the bills that are coming. It is incredibly difficult to hold firm to these arbitrary convictions when we are telling the homeless man or woman that they cannot be provided with care.
The truth is that it ceases to be easy when the people are real. It ceases to be easy when we are making real decisions that impact real people. People with jobs, lives, and families. People who are being thrown into the despair of poverty because they want to be well.
I believe that it is time for physicians and those in the health care field to stop making the easy decisions. It is time to throw aside our arbitrary ideals and tenets and remember what brought the majority of us into the field in the first place: patient-centered care. I am firmly convinced that is not the political party, belief system, or theory of practice that should unite us. What we do need is unequivocal commitment among physicians to put aside the entrapment of rhetoric and embrace the patients who are sitting in front of us. The patients that are real people lost in a real system that seems to have ceased to care. I don’t claim to have all of the answers — or even one of the answers — but I do believe that unless the medical community embraces the teamwork that is inherently necessary for success in our field, we can only head down a path that perpetuates this unhealthy system of care in the United States.
Kathleen McFadden is a medical student.