The COVID-19 pandemic helped bring out people’s true colors. After two years of the unrelenting pressures of the pandemic, people’s true colors came out, and I will have a frank about this truth. As physicians, we often put our patient’s comfort before ours, but at what point does one have to stop and reflect on this.
As physicians, we are often put on a pedestal and have unrealistic expectations. We want physicians to be rock stars, we want physicians to be superhuman, and we want physicians to deal perfectly with all situations.
Yet physicians do the best they can, and they are not perfect. Also, despite a physician’s best effort, they have to work within a not-so-perfect system. Although physician burnout is a real thing, physician pressure exists as well. This is where society needs to step up and help balance the scales.
Society has unrealistic expectations of physicians too. Society expects physicians to be available all the time and other unspoken requests (including answering emails on weekends and evenings). Yet, we know that physicians’ lives exist outside of work and must have some downtime or else they will suffer from burnout. Physician burnout is not just about having an emotional meltdown because of stress; it can result in physician depression and suicide.
Yet physician pressure also comes from favoring our society’s specialties over primary care medicine (family medicine, internal medicine, geriatricians). Yet often, physicians get penalized for things out of their control. For example, physicians are often accused of hiding information, often accused of not working hard enough or playing too much. All factual statements about physician work ethic and workloads but again unrealistic expectations by society on what it takes to be a great physician or more so what society expects of us as physicians. These expectations lead some people into burnout and leave this career.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, what does the saying “health care hero” and “front line worker mean to you”? Does it leave you with a sense of pride about your ongoing sacrifice? Or, perhaps, it strikes a cord another way. Maybe you, like many others, feel that those words are mainly lip service.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Come on, that physician is a hero for taking the call in the middle of the night? Is that physician a hero for getting to work early or staying late? Most physicians are heroes by what they do every day, but I don’t think society sees it because physicians are getting paid; then, by default, they are seen as “just doing their job.”
It took me over a decade to acknowledge that I was tired of the traditional medical model and the unrealistic expectations being placed on me. I wanted a situation where there was more patient accountability. The patient-physician relationship was more of a partnership, where the patient knew that the success of their life outcomes was directly proportional to the effort they put forth. So I want a situation where both partners refuse to accept a bandaid approach to health care and do the work needed to get great results. So how often have patients complained about ailments, year after year, but refused to take ownership of their actions? Patients will blame the physician for prescribing medications and state that they don’t need them, while we both know the only thing the physician did was write a prescription. For many conditions, the outcome results from the patient’s actions.
I hope physicians will embrace their role as physicians, physician advocates, physician leaders, and physician change agents. I wish for all physicians to feel the passion I have felt since becoming aware of this model of care. The physician is willing to take personal accountability for their health and asks the patient to accept part of that responsibility. Regardless of the health model you subscribe to, make sure you keep healthy boundaries and not define yourself by your profession. Remember, you are human, too, and your health and wellness should be your number one priority.
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