There was an article recently published in Forbes titled “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Doctors.” It was a well-written piece that outlined the multitude of reasons that many physicians have become disillusioned with a field they once felt a passionate draw to. The reasons listed in the article were accurate and included the loss of autonomy, mental exhaustion, and asymmetrical rewards.
Many physicians feel there is an overall lack of appreciation for the sacrifices we make. With Press Ganey patient satisfaction scores influencing patient care in many hospitals where patient satisfaction is paramount, many physicians feel an adversarial relationship has developed between physicians, patients, and the administration that is focused more on the bottom line than patient health and well-being. With a rise in fake medical news, celebrity endorsements vilifying scientifically proven interventions such as vaccines, and many patients who feel their “Google MD” trumps a physician’s years of training, our jobs just seem to be getting harder. In many cases, electronic medical records have improved the way we coordinate and deliver care, but it has come at the cost of more paperwork, increasingly complicated diagnosis coding, more time in front of a computer, and less hands-on time with our patients.
But for all the challenges we face, there are also many things that we as physicians can, and should, continue to find fulfillment with. The fundamental role of being a doctor still remains. We are there to help our patients, and by doing so, we are often able to change people’s lives.
I grew up in a physician household. My father is a vascular surgeon, and many of my fondest memories growing up were of rounding with him on the weekend or running into a former patient of his at the grocery store. The one thing I remember the most from each of these encounters is that I could see that my dad had touched each of these people’s lives. As I grew older, he would remind me that a physician’s job doesn’t always end when they get home. He told me to think very hard about whether I actually wanted to enter into this very unique world. When I decided to apply to medical school, he reminded me again that the sacrifices I make are going to be hard, but the reward at the end is that I will have the privilege of effecting change in each of my patient’s lives. When I chose to apply for a fellowship in hematology and oncology, he expressed some concern for the emotional toll such a field could have on me and my family. But he always came back to his original mantra. You must love what you do. If you do that, it won’t feel like a job. And you must always remember that whatever you do, you do it to help your patients.
We have entered a very different era in the world of health care. As physicians, we carry an important responsibility to continue to educate our patients and the general public on peer-reviewed and evidence-based science and facts, while continuing to provide exemplary care. The challenges we face are different than those my father, and others in his generation faced 30 years ago, and the challenges future physicians will face will change further still.
However, with change and advancements also come unique opportunities. These should not be looked at as reasons to run from the health care system, but rather reasons to equip our future colleagues with the tools they will need to be successful no matter what challenge they may face. We as physicians must learn how to advocate for our patients with the tools we have available to us within the current system and work together towards positive change not only for our patients, but also for ourselves. We need to take responsibility and take charge of our field and work towards changing the issues we are frustrated with instead of wringing our hands and walking away. Instead of seeing these difficulties and challenges as insurmountable hurdles, we must find ways to continue to improve the system and work together to find solutions. We have a unique vantage point of the system, and at some point, we let go of the reins of change and lost the ability to significantly impact and influence the way medicine was heading. We must find ways as physicians to improve upon the system we have by working together to overcome the challenges that we face as an institution and regain some control.
I remind my fellows, residents and medical students that what we do is a privilege. People let us into the most intimate aspects of their lives, and they look to us to help guide them through very complex and delicate situations. In ten years, you may not remember your patient, but when you deliver someone good or bad news, your face will be forever etched into that person’s mind. Do your job with dignity, and respect the Hippocratic oath we take at our white coat ceremony. Choose this job because it is, and will always be, more than a job. No matter what challenges medicine as a field, or you as an individual physician face, remember your patient, and that you do this ultimately for them.
So, when my two-year-old daughter puts on her Doc McStuffins lab coat and wants to listen to my heart, or answers her phone stating proudly, “This is Dr. Jain” I tell her the same things that my dad told me. And I hope that when it is time for her to decide where her career path will take her, I can impart on her the same wisdom my father gave me: Choose medicine if that is your passion, and continue on in medicine because that is your privilege.
Shikha Jain is a hematology-oncology physician. She can be reached on Twitter @ShikhaJainMD.
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