I am a child psychiatrist who is also a patient, a mother of patients and the wife of a patient. I have lived all sides of health care and appreciate the complexity that is our American health care system. After a recent move to a different part of town, we decided to find a new pediatrician for our daughters.
I knew that we had several good options near our home. When we eventually chose a pediatric clinic whose doctors I knew personally and had even shared a few patients with, I was confident that either of the physicians would be a good fit for our family.
However, I was not prepared for how I would feel at the end of our first visit. I’ve realized that the best I could do is to offer a simple “thank you” to our new pediatrician. This letter is to her and to all physicians who are doing their best for their patients, because it truly matters.
Dear Dr. Van,
You recently saw my daughter for her 10-year-old well child check. I’ve known you for a couple years as a colleague and have felt encouraged about your care of and concern for the patients we have shared. I appreciated your and your partner’s work and dedication to building a practice and providing the type of care that best served your patients. Then, I brought my daughter to see you for the first time, and my appreciation has only grown. I’ve been a patient in the health care system for longer than I’ve been a physician. I have waited long past my appointment times in crowded waiting rooms, been ignored by front desk staff, routed through infuriating automated phone systems and rushed through a doctor’s visit. I have also received understanding, compassionate care, been greeted by smiling front desk staff and welcomed into well-run practices. From the moment I contacted your office to schedule my daughter’s appointment to the time we left at the end of the appointment, I knew that this was what medicine is meant to be.
So first, as a mother, thank you. Thank you for creating an atmosphere in your office that, from the moment we entered, made us feel welcomed and valued. We were greeted with a smile, and I never felt that our presence was a burden or inconvenience. When you sat with us, you listened and understood. I’m sure your time was limited, but I, and most importantly, my daughter never felt that way. In the moment, she felt like the most important patient in your day.
Perhaps, none of this seems extraordinary, except that it is not the experience I have come to expect in health care. Unfortunately, as a patient, I have come to expect that everyone, from the front desk staff to the physicians, are hurried and overworked. I have entered many practice environments and felt unwelcome, just another encounter to work through. I have approached a front desk, on more than one occasion, only to be ignored as I patiently waited for someone to acknowledge my presence and ask the reason for my visit. It seems that the simple joy of practicing medicine has been stripped away in the name of a lean, efficient business model focused on increasing revenue and decreasing inefficiencies.
You have created a practice where, regardless of the stresses of the business, the patient experience is one of feeling valued and heard. I know this because my daughter, who dreads going to the doctor, left with a smile. I could tell from our conversation on the short drive home that she felt heard and validated. She felt that the space was safe to talk about the sensitive things a young tween needs to discuss. It was the first time that I saw her form an independent relationship with her doctor; one that can grow based on trust and respect.
Second, as a colleague, I thank you. You have managed to keep all of this going in a health care environment where more and more practices are closing or being absorbed by large organizations. You have fought to thrive in a culture where physicians are becoming burned out or experiencing serious mental illness. And honestly, even if you do feel stretched under the pressures of the work and the business, you hide it well from your patients. This truly exemplifies the heart of medicine.
This is what I believe. I believe that the practice of medicine has undergone changes that have been damaging to patients and physicians alike. I know that most physicians enter the field of medicine with a strong drive to help people by understanding the complexities of the human body in sickness and in health. I also know, from my own journey in re-imagining my career, that collectively, we have lost our way trying to understand our new role in health care. We shouldn’t have to fight to treat our patients in the way that we feel is best for them nor should we have to fight to hold onto our own sense of well-being, but this is where we often find ourselves.
So lastly, I thank you for the work that you do and your continued fight to maintain your place in health care. I want you to know that, as a mother and a colleague, I appreciate what you do and how you are doing it. I hope that you continue, because you are an asset to your patients and to medicine.
Tracy Asamoah is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
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