Being a pediatrician in a pandemic

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I have been a general pediatrician for over a decade.  I chose pediatrics because I saw the children as our future.  The only way to make the future bigger and brighter is to give them the best.  So with all of my academic accolades through high school, college and medical school, I knowingly chose the lowest paying field in medicine.  I love my patients, but a pandemic has completely changed how I perceive the field of pediatrics.

It has been obvious how hard pediatricians have worked during this pandemic, myself included.  We gladly stepped up to give our families accurate information daily, keep our patients up to date on well checks to make sure they are growing and developing as they should, keep them immunized and show up daily to treat their illnesses, stitch their injuries, cast broken bones, and even pierce their ears.  We did all of this while struggling to get simple things like gloves, needles, and masks to keep ourselves and our employees safe.  We gained respect from our communities and families by being a reliable medical information resource for schools.  We even did drive-through flu vaccine clinics to get our community vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible.

However, the hospital systems ignored us by putting us lowest on the totem pole for the COVID vaccine.  The pharmaceutical companies overlooked the strains on us and increased our vaccine prices.  The medical supply companies took advantage of us by limiting our supplies and increasing prices astronomically.  Worst of all, the insurance companies (knowing we are already the lowest reimbursed field) changed coding and billing requirements and reimbursements in 2021, ultimately decreasing our reimbursements even further.  So now we are paid even lower than we were prior to the pandemic.

We, as pediatricians, are clearly vital for the future.  When are we going to be recognized for our efforts?  We love our patients; we love our communities.  We are clearly not self-serving.  However, what is our future going to look like if these powerful entities do not invest in it?  What medical student with six figures of debt will want to go into the field of pediatrics if a manager of a discount department store can make more annually?  What are we saying as a country if we put so little money and resources toward our future’s health and well-being?  Those of us actively practicing are tired of trying to balance so much responsibility with so few resources.  We are losing hope for that brighter future.  Many of us are even being replaced by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, with little to no pediatrics training.

As pediatricians, we always joke that we are too nice.  We give away a lot of our services for free by answering medical questions 24/7, not charging patients without insurance for common services, and consulting with our community for free.  It is time for us not to be nice anymore if we want to survive and for our children’s well-being.  It is time for us to stand up and fight together and have our voices be heard. 

Jamie S. Hutton is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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