I have wanted to be a pediatrician since I was eight years old. Growing up, my favorite book was the large medical encyclopedia that sat on the bookshelf in our den. My life has been planned around that singular goal, each step predetermined and in a very specific order. I have thoroughly enjoyed practicing medicine over the last 17 years — first as a primary care pediatrician, then for the last 13 years as a pediatric hospitalist. If anyone had told me I would leave clinical medicine to be an entrepreneur I would have laughed in disbelief. But on July 1, 2017, that is exactly what I did.
How did I get here? I had no desire to even open my own practice, let alone found a company. Some may assume I left clinical medicine because of physician burnout. I have felt overextended and overwhelmed at times, but I actually loved my job. At the risk of sounding cocky, I was very good at it. I am not running from anything. Rather, I’m running to what I now know is my destiny.
My road to entrepreneurship was paved with anger and frustration. As a caregiver to my late father, I was often in disbelief at the disjointedness of our health care system. When you experience the medical field on the other side of the stethoscope, the dichotomy is striking. In my world of hospital medicine, things like medication reconciliation and multidisciplinary communication were like the Holy Grail. Yet, I couldn’t get my father’s specialists to talk to one another and every time he was hospitalized or seen in an emergency department his medication list would grow. Physical and mental status changes were dismissed by providers who could not possibly know his baseline, and I found myself regularly advocating for the care he needed.
There were times when my advocacy efforts were successful because, as an “insider,” I knew the system and the players. There were other times when I was ignored until I mentioned I was a physician. Both occurrences made me incredibly sad, not for myself, but for the countless patients who don’t have medical professionals in their families. I kept asking myself how lay people navigate this complicated maze we call “health care”. How do they get the answers to questions they don’t even know they should ask? How do they speak up when their insights and experiences are diminished by individuals with a wealth of knowledge and training who seem to know what’s best?
The chasm that lies between what patients and their family members need and what we in the health care field provide will only be filled with innovation. We need to find new ways to educate and empower our patients so they can be effective partners. I’ve been in the trenches for 17 years, and I’ve learned that the system prevents good doctors and other health care providers from delivering the idealistic care we dream about. I am leaving clinical medicine to develop solutions, build bridges and begin filling this chasm. Lofty goals, but our patients and their caregivers are worth the challenge.
Nicole Rochester is founder, Your GPS Doc.
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