I am an internist in private practice in a community west of Milwaukee, and my commitment as a physician is to keep my patients and community safe and healthy. Throughout the pandemic, I have worked hard to learn everything I can about COVID-19, have helped my patients stay healthy, greatly reduced rates of COVID spread through preventive education, and cared for my patients who have become COVID positive, keeping them healthy enough not to need hospitalization. My practice has stayed open throughout the pandemic; I’ve been diligent and tenacious through significant dips in patient volume and worked hard to meet payroll. I have not furloughed any employees and have even sacrificed paying myself for months to keep my doors open.
I have no idea how I can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. My potential exposure to COVID-19 is high. Even though we screen our patients to make virtual appointments if they are symptomatic and never turn anyone away who needs to be seen, I have seen patients who are COVID-19 positive. We all have. It is an occupational hazard for those of us whose calling is clinical practice.
Yesterday, I contacted the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to question how/where my staff and I can get vaccinated. Neither knew how physicians in private practice were to get on the ‘list’ and be in line for the vaccine, let alone our staff. Then I called my community hospital which I have interfaced with for 20 years. I am on courtesy staff there and send my patients for diagnostic testing and hospital admissions to their hospital. I spoke with the medical staff administrator who said she had no provisions for us. The vaccines they received were meant for hospital employees only, and I was “on my own.”
I am shocked and saddened at the lack of coordination surrounding vaccinations for front line health care providers and staff who are not corporate health care affiliated.
Have we become the have-nots in medicine? Is our value only based on what we can provide for corporate health care facilities, funneling our patients to them so they can profit from us? Do we have no value in Medicine as respected members of our vocation?
I have never felt this alone as a physician.
Yet, I know I am not alone. Many of my private practice colleagues are experiencing what I am, and we are all reeling from what has happened to health care every day. The corporatization of health care treats private practitioners as outliers. I am left to wonder when we will be noticed as having any value or worth.
Until then, I guess we are “on our own” as the health care administrator so eloquently stated. And we need to find a way to support one another as outliers of the corporate system who have a sacred commitment to keeping our communities healthy.
Rose Kumar is an internal medicine physician.
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