Why I love being a family physician

I love being a family physician. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.

I love the breadth of family medicine. I love being able to take care of just about every person that walks through the door. Even when another doctor is the right person to take care of a niche need, I love knowing that I was usually the person that identified the problem and that I’ll be responsible for the long-term care. I love the fact I can care of patients’ needs from prenatal care to end of life care.

I love taking care of sick patients. I love easing a patient’s pain. I love figuring out why a person can’t catch her breath then treating her to the point she can breathe easy again. I love the procedures we do. I love the challenge of sticking needles and knives into patients to diagnose and treat them.

I love the fact I can competently take care of undifferentiated patients in a clinic, hospital, or ER. I love the fact my comprehensive family medicine training allowed me to care for emergency patients for 11 years.

I love the relationships I’ve had with my residents, colleagues, and patients. My colleagues in private practice talk even more glowingly about their long-term relationships with patients — experiences such as delivering the baby of a young woman he delivered 21 years earlier. The quirks of my residency teaching job have made my career slightly different from my fellow family physicians, so the long-term patient relationships have been a little harder to come by.

I love taking care of complex patients. I love explaining to them why they don’t feel 100%, laying out their options, and then negotiating with them which approaches they’d like to try. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of working with patients who have 5 chronic diseases and 3 new symptoms. I love it when this process causes a patient to sleep better, regain lost energy, regain some self confidence, return to the job, return to their volunteer work, be in less pain, or any number of other positive outcomes.

I can’t say I love telling a patient his cancer has returned, or family members that their loved one just died. However, I would like to believe that if I handle these difficult situations well, maybe it will help ease the suffering and move people along the normal trajectory of grieving.

I am so thankful I have the privilege of having (and I hope earning) my patients and residents trust each day. I am continually amazed at how quickly patients are to tell me their secrets just because I wear a white coat.

I love being a family physician.

Richard Young is a physician who blogs at American Health Scare.

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