Don’t look back to how medicine used to be


Is it just me, or is the world of medicine getting way more complicated?

Sometimes I long for the good old days of practicing medicine.

First, the hospital switched over to electronic medical records, which required us to to attend Saturday morning classes to learn how to tell the nurses our patients could go home after surgery.

Next, our office got an insurance memo that said we must now add extra codes on our billing forms. The codes indicate that we’ve told our patients to quit smoking, warned them about the risks of our treatment, and offered them a follow-up appointment.

As if doctoring wasn’t time-intensive enough, now we must enter and re-enter data that has very little meaning to anyone except the pencil-pushers in insurance land.

It’s enough to make a doctor weary. Burned out. Aggravated.

It reminds me of a call I made 10 years ago to one of my mentors.

Here’s how it went down …

First, let me say that I’m just like you. I rarely reach out to call my mentor in the middle of a workday. He knows this about me. So, when he heard me on the other end of the phone, his first question was, “Are you calling from the operating room?”

We both laughed, relieved that my answer was no. Then we got on to the topic at hand. It went something like this.

I asked him why medicine had gone to hell in a hand basket, and how could I turn back the clock to the days when he was first in practice.

Here’s what he then asked me:

  1. When you go to a restaurant, do you feel like you can order pretty much whatever you want?
  2. Do you like where you live? Is the neighborhood safe?
  3. Does your car run OK, without you being fearful of it breaking down on your way to work every day?

Of course, my answers were yes, yes, and yes.

His response was, “Then quit your complaining.” (I believe he actually used a stronger word that rhymed with “itching.”)

He went on to remind me of all the things we all take for granted on a daily basis. That we are more fortunate than at least 90 percent of the world. And how we have the ability to help people, to know people more intimately and more authentically than in any other profession, and that we make a reasonable living doing it.

His take home message was: Don’t look back.

Don’t look back to how medicine used to be. Or how it looked when Marcus Welby, MD, was a not-so-unrealistic TV doctor. Or even how it was when we started medical school.

Instead, look forward at the innovations that have come to medicine that are helpful. Be grateful for the improvements in treatment for many diseases that used to have no hope. Appreciate the technology that, despite the overkill, allows us to Google medications we don’t know (even as it lets our patients Google symptoms that lead to their anxiety).

So, whenever I’m having the kind of day I had yesterday, where I have to pull myself up short and give myself a talking to … I remember my dear mentor’s words.

I remind myself to search for joy.

I remind myself to be grateful.

And I think about other words of wisdom that tell similar tales. Words from teachers such as Deepak Chopra, who said, “Each of us is like a millionaire with amnesia. We go through life feeling poor, having forgotten that in reality we are very rich. In other words, by being so convinced we are limited in mind and body, we have forgotten the truth that our soul knows no boundaries.”

Deepak wasn’t talking to doctors and health care providers.

But he could’ve been.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker and personal coach.  She blogs at Love Medicine Again and is the author of Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD

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