We are human, we are not indestructible. We have feelings and emotions that can get hurt, probably more than the average person based on the careers we have chosen. Yes, we will pass up on our well-being (such as sleep, hygiene, exercise, relationships with family and friends) to be there for our patients. To receive our critical training to be able to care for others. This is our sacrifice, and we did it knowingly. We do it because of how much we care. We do it because, for many of us, this is our calling. We do it because want to help people. We want to make them better.
But here’s the thing: We are not made of stone, we cannot withstand abuse and neglect and still give to others in the same capacity. Yes, we are doctors, but we are human too.
In medicine, there is a very malignant environment that is just accepted. As eager medical students, we are only trying to please and learn as much as we can. And our attendings (supervising physicians) may sometimes give us a “good job,” when we know the right diagnosis or assist in an appropriate way. We also get told when we are not doing something right, as we should be told and learn from our mistakes. As we enter residency (some being more malignant than others), the kudos slowly disappear, and there’s an overlying expectation of always doing the right thing. Yes, we can ask questions. Yes, we are encouraged to learn, But if there is an error, which there will be, there is no more sugar coating. There is no more talking to us in such a manner so we can learn from our mistakes, rather it’s shaming us into never wanting to try again. There is no more “good job.” I can take care of 30 patients well, but only ever hear of the one I missed something on. I wish this were an exaggeration, but it’s not.
No, we shouldn’t be handing out awards for doing your job, no we shouldn’t say “good job” every time you actually just do your job, but “Thank you, your patient really appreciated your help,” “Thanks for covering that shift on your day off,” “Thanks for staying late to take care of —.” Any of these comments could go a long way before I’m told about the one chart out of a hundred I didn’t complete in that one specific way.
Suicide rates for doctors are rising at an alarming rate and are the highest for any profession. Physicians are telling their own children not to go into the field of medicine. We can no longer just call it physician burnout and tell doctors to meditate, do yoga or take some personal time for themselves. None of this is the root of the problem nor will it fix the problem.
I wish I was speaking for the disgruntled few, but, unfortunately, the statistics paint a different picture. More and more doctors are looking for a “side gig” — a way to supplement their income, to relieve the stress from medicine, a possible “way out” of medicine or for some, like myself, a place where we feel encouraged and entrenched with positivity.
We are human, we have feelings, we are here to take care of our patients. But who will take care of us? Because at this rate, there will be fewer people that care and more people that are numb to it all because there is no other way to withstand the malignancy that has permeated our field for too long. Doctors must be appreciated (not just one day a year), we must feel like our sacrifices mean something to someone or else it’s just too hard to keep going.
Elham Safani is a pediatrician who blogs at a (doctor) mom and a blog.
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