Being a commodity takes away the joy of medicine

It’s peculiar, I think, that we live in a time of physician shortage and yet some things remain abundantly clear:

1. Physicians can’t work together to fight, either for their own good or the good of their patients.

2. Like hostages, or abused spouses, they just keep going back for more of whatever bad policies they endure.

3. They are devalued.

Now, this isn’t about money. I’m not enough of a medical economics expert to suggest whether or not each speciality is being paid equitably. I have ideas, but this is not the space.

Perhaps devalued is the wrong phrase. They are treated as commodities. Allow me to elucidate.

I have a friend who was fired over a column he wrote that really wasn’t salacious, didn’t refer to the facility in any negative way, wasn’t (G-d forbid) politically incorrect. His employers just didn’t like it.

I have friends who are employees of large hospital systems, but not allowed to work anywhere else (for money) on their time off. I wonder if the corporation decides which side of the bed they can sleep on each night? How this is legal I have no idea.

Another friend has a job where every activity she does outside the hospital, that involves speaking or writing, has to be approved by her employer. Whether or not it has anything to do with medicine or her job as a physician. Madness.

And the greatest insult of all, in far too many hospitals around the country, physicians, nurses, PAs, NPs and other clinicians are not allowed to keep food or drink at their desks. “It’s an infection control issue.” Nope. It’s just a control issue.

Those who make the rules happily skip off to desks with coffee, cookies, candy and all the rest. And they get breaks and lunches. They can leave the campus! Not so the clinicians in endoscopy suites, ORs, ICUs, etc. who are chained to their computers all day and all night (oh, and to patient care, blah, blah, blah). No snacks for you! And often no bathroom breaks.

How did this happen? l don’t know. I don’t know how we became the enemy of an occupying power in the administrative suites of America. How we became, not their allies, not their raison d’etre, but their subjects.

But I know it needs to stop. Because being a commodity takes away the joy of medicine. I also know that history suggests you can only push so hard. And there aren’t nearly enough of us to go around.

The current situation isn’t good for anybody.

Let’s hope it changes before it’s too late.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

View 11 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 141,000+ subscribers 
✓ Get KevinMD's 5 most popular stories
Subscribe. It's free.
close-image