Meet the doctor who started a physician advocacy group

This week is Physicians Week, and this is one in a series of interviews with members of the physician community that are bringing a variety of ideas and networks together in order to improve the relationships between physicians and between physicians and their patients.

Dr. Kim Jackson founded a large network of physicians and future physicians that started as a group on Facebook. As patients lamented increasing costs in health coverage and less time with their physicians, doctors became burdened, and this political advocacy group was founded as a way to help deal with the issues.

How did this physician advocacy group come together?

I started realizing that medicine has changed and a lot of doctors either work in a hospital or outpatient setting. We don’t have that connection that we used to have in the doctor’s lounge and passing each other in talking. So I called my network, started setting up meetings at the library. Every Saturday I started meeting with doctors from various specialties and each Saturday brought with it a different doctor. At the time I was thinking I’m a working mom, I’m a physician, and I go to church — I don’t have time to meet every Saturday at the library. So how could I efficiently get us together?

So the idea came up, why don’t you create a Facebook group? I remember having my doubts about time constraints and wondering would anyone even want to be a part of it. So I spoke with other colleagues and gained the confidence to start the group. A year later we have over 5,400 members in our Facebook group. We have every region in the United States represented, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well as members in Greece, Japan, Canada, and the middle east. It is amazing. I think it shows that physician advocacy is a global issue. A lot of physicians feel like their voices aren’t being heard. We have in our group practicing physicians, retired physicians, military physicians, newly graduated physicians searching for residencies, and medical students. We have the whole gamut. Even with our website, we want to bring in the public because we want to educate them.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting this group?

I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is how disconnected we are but how much we crave connection. We are excited when we talk to each other and find out some of ­­­the issues we have are the same issues other colleagues have.  We rediscover how warm and cool doctors are and how we want to connect with each other to be able to share information. I’ve found that we overwhelmingly love what we do. It’s just that we are very frustrated with a lot of things that are going on — bureaucracy and insurance and a lot of other things, i.e. patients not really understanding what we go through to get here or how hard we have to fight for them long after they have left the office. However, at the end of the day, we want that connection — with each other and with our patients. That was cool because I didn’t know that this many physicians felt that way. It was really good to see that folks are ready to connect and take care of ourselves and our patients.

How great of a tool has social media been for physicians?

I’ve discovered — and this still catches me off guard — that social media is the way to go now. We have a website, and we’re going to do a newsletter to get to people through e-mail and stuff like that, but by far, social media has proven to be an extremely powerful tool that I think physicians especially don’t utilize well. Between Facebook and Twitter, we are able to get our message out quickly with the opportunity for it to reach many people and potentially go viral.

Another thing I have discovered is patients like hearing about what we do for the community. I shared a story on social media a while ago. My oldest patient is 103; she’s okay with me sharing this story. She came to see me on the day of her birthday, so I told my office manager to get some flowers and a card for this lady. We celebrated with her and recorded it for her and our memory.  She was very grateful, happy, and surprised.  With her permission, I posted the video. I was amazed at how fast it got around — I had people in my church and community telling me it was awesome. The post got 4,000+ likes! I had no idea how much of a heartstring that it would pull. People love to see how much you care about your patients. It’s not just me; there are tons of doctors that do this kind of thing.

How do you feel your organization has helped physicians the most?

The way it has helped — for one, you don’t feel so alone. With the group, you have people messaging you asking how you’re doing, maybe people you haven’t connected with in awhile. It’s this network — brotherhood, sisterhood. If you’re frustrated, it’s a good place to air those frustrations out. I have people message me saying they’re glad this group is here, saying they felt alone in private practice and this group gave them hope. That’s amazing because it is a tough job.

I think every doctor has faced the dilemma of trying to discuss the hard parts of their jobs with their spouses, friends, or family members and walked away feeling no better.  Most people who are not doctors will not understand the sacrifice that goes into what we are doing and how hard we work to find balance.  They can offer you sympathy, but this group offers empathy and encouragement and ideas. We have amongst our ranks a multitude of innovative skill sets and knowledge, and this group bring us all together to learn from one another. We are able to come together in real time without having to hop on a plane or leave the office to discuss and debate our barriers and hurdles and find solutions.

What’s the biggest obstacle you think physicians face today?

I think a lot of it stems from the breakdown in the patient-physician relationship. I think that would probably be the biggest hurdle. Because no matter where you are in your training or what you’re doing, you’ll always deal with that at some point. You have different things dictating what you want. Whether it’s your boss saying get them in, get them out. Whether it’s wanting to make sure you get good reviews. Whether it’s family members of the patient or they themselves expecting something unrealistic. It’s all about making sure that there’s a connection between you and that patient and they realize you care for them and you’re there for them but getting them to realize you’re pulled in various directions. I think no matter where you work, that may be demonstrated in different ways, in different places.

Then there’s also a physician’s wellness and work-life balance. A lot of people aren’t aware there’s an average of 400 physician suicides a year. It’s a lot; it’s a big deal. If there were 400 suicides a year for another group, it would be considered an epidemic. But it’s a silent issue in health care for physicians that we don’t even talk about. One of the reasons I started this group was because a good friend of mine who was a pediatrician, took her own life. I think about it today, and it really breaks me up. You don’t want anyone to feel alone. You want to see if you can make a connection. And of course, happy, well physicians can treat patients better. We want that. It’s very important.

Do you have any plans for Physicians Week?

Yes, A couple of things. One thing that is encouraged for physicians to show appreciation for other physicians. I discovered carnations are the flowers for Doctor’s Day and last year I gave our family’s doctors carnations, edible arrangements, and other goodies. II’ll do something for some other special physicians this year as well. It’s about encouraging others to show love to physicians they care about. The other thing we are doing locally is we are having a Physicians Appreciation Dinner. We invite all physicians in our area, and we have some awesome local entities that sponsor it!

We feed them, love them, and they don’t have to pay or be sold anything. It’s great because for many of us it’s one of the few chances we get to see other docs, many we may refer to or have heard of but never met. Last year was the first one, and it was awesome! Many docs shared how they loved it, have been looking forward to the next one and felt renewed and rejuvenated as well as reminded why they went into medicine in the first place. They left empowered and ready to continue the work we love to do – take care of our patients and ourselves while truly being present for our families, colleagues, and community! That’s what this truly is all about.

Kim Jackson is founder, Physicians Working Together.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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