I am not your provider.
There are days I loudly scream silently within the profundity of my soul, “Lord, please do not let them call me ‘provider’ one more time.”
I do not merely present to you to give you something you can use for your own personal subsistence.
Provider comes from the Latin verb “providere,” which means “to foresee.” Our beloved and storied profession’s effective and evidence-based practice does not merely imply seeing a thing before. It means standing with, standing beside, and standing in front of, and sometimes running alongside each other and our patients to achieve a common goal of ultimate wellness through health and healing.
To denote me in the glory of my white coat — clean, crisp, and pristine in its innate form — as a provider is to, in essence, cheapen it. It being the patient-physician relationship. It being the multitudinous nights and days spent laboring over books, negotiating curricula, and the sweat, prayers, and tears to reach, with fervor, the remarkable achievement of attendinghood.
It being the act of doctoring.
It being the days of study and toil forever and always to prepare the most consistently reasonable list of differential diagnoses.
It being the tears offered up by, and the tissues offered to my patient at the very breakage of bad news.
It being the lectures provided to medical posterity, the research articles published, the committees on which I serve, and the consistent updates I receive, review, and read all to service consummately my patient and the nobility of the profession by which I call my name.
It being the sacrifices made to not be at a Christmas gathering, funeral, or wedding of one or more of my own, just to tend to the needs of a patient—a fellow human being who needed me more.
It being my humanity and debasing me to the level of the mindless entity who just gives a thing when a thing is needed to be given to a human being does not accurately delineate what I do or even how I work.
For I am a physician. There is gravitas that is invoked by stating that word. There is calling.
Dare not, even just one more time, call me merely one who gives a thing. I do not just give.
The relationship I have with my patient is a beauteous partnership that is unparalleled. It is formal. It is holy. It is reasonable. It is acceptable. It is a reasonable service. It is almost like religion itself. It is of God and through faith. It is hard nights and long days. It is advocacy for the greatest of the great remedies. It is prayer at the bedside and holding hands. It is goodness and mercy. It is worthy to be called by a name so much greater than what has become the banal appellation deemed most apropos to our employ. I and we are so much than … provider. At times, it feels like priest. At times, it feels like paternity. At times, it feels like problem-solver. At times, it feels like prayer partner.
I assure you this is many incandescent and copious things, but it is not, I equally assure you, merely provision.
Earl Stewart, Jr. is an internal medicine physician in Atlanta, Georgia, a 2023 Doximity Digital Health Fellow, and a 2023 Climate and Health Equity Fellow (CHEF) with the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. He can be reached on E.S.J., M.D., LinkedIn, Twitter @EarlStewartJr, and Doximity.
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