In the “Show-Me State” of Missouri, physicians receive their licenses from the Board of Registration for the Healing Arts. Seriously! This quaint term harkens back to a time when newly minted doctors had a relatively easy time realizing their desire to meld compassion, knowledge, and skill in order to relieve human suffering.
Armed with credentials suggesting that we have the right stuff to avoid doing harm, many of us are drawn to medicine with a heartfelt desire to help others. However, in the last half-century, the “healing art” that is the medical profession has gradually morphed into a complex, corporatized, and commodified system that psychiatrist Alex Sabo refers to as “industrialized medicine.”
Industrialized medicine has limitations. It can thwart kindly demeanor, patience, and touch – behaviors that are soothing and therapeutic. Photographer Eberhard Grossgasteiger refers to the woman comforting and touching his mother as her protectress; she is likely not a physician. These days, much of the art of helping and healing those who suffer comes from modestly paid home health aides and nursing assistants, many of whom hail from more traditional cultures. Alas, compassionate caregiving is not well-rewarded by the third parties that fund our economy’s largest sector.
Physicians and other team members too often feel like Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory. Many doctors are sickened by how familiar it feels to have so much coming at you that you can no longer do your best work. It hurts to be unable to be present for the patient.
The trend is unmistakable: The life’s work of the healer has become more and more technical and business-like. Too many doctors feel like workers on the assembly line, the kind who are frustrated because they do not control the speed of the conveyor belt. At a certain point, industrialized health professionals start to feel like the widgets on the belt. Malaise sets in when you realize that you have become an almost inanimate object. This is physician burnout, which some have conceptualized as a form of moral injury visited upon us as by industrialized medicine.
In Two-Thousand Doctors Later: Mindful of Our Good Fortune, I alluded to my experience assisting physicians with burnout, uncivil behavior, and other challenges. Many of these physicians were reacting to the pain of having been widgetized. Unfortunately, when market forces reduce you to an object with less soul, it doesn’t take long before you start treating others like widgets on the assembly line, too. Team members, colleagues, even patients – all bear the brunt of the dehumanized, unprofessional physician. How do we recapture the art of healing?
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