Dear Medical Professional,
How’s it going? My hope is that you’re well- rested, fulfilled, happy and loving your life of practicing medicine. If you’re not, I’m sorry and I feel you, I really, truly do.
Can you remember a time when you decided to go into medicine and the healthcare world to serve and take care of people? Maybe it was when you were a kid and you thought your pediatrician was the coolest because he had a waiting room full of toys or some really fun way of making you feel not so scared about going to the doctor. Or perhaps it was during Biology class as you learned about all the cool biological systems and how they work together in harmony to make our bodies run efficiently. How about after you volunteered for a mission trip where you were assigned to take care of an asthmatic child using a make-shift nebulizer machine and you saw him breathe without struggle? Whatever it was, take a minute, close your eyes and think back to that moment. Can you feel the joy well up inside of you?
It may be hard to do, I get it. In modern day sickcare, we have little time to make any connections that remind us of why we went into medicine in the first place. The five to seven minute visits with patients where we are expected to review history, current concerns, review labs and x-rays, titrate or start medications, perform an exam and still maintain a rapport with our patients, make it difficult. We’re constantly bombarded with paperwork or messages or insurance documents, medication refills, prior authorizations and making sure all of our notes are completed and submitted so that our hospitals and organizations and our staff can get paid. Most of us have a 40-hour work week salary, but often work 10, 11, up to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, I know my supervising physician does. Very little in todays practice feels like medicine the way we dreamed of it being practiced. To me, it feels like conveyer belt factory medicine and I’m pretty sure my patients feel the same way.
Can you remember a patient who changed the way you approached your practice? Is there someone from rotations or residency or your first few years of practice who really impacted the way that you formed your bedside manner? For me, it was gentleman from my Internal Medicine rotation in Phoenix who came in for a physical and left with what I thought was a massive cancer in his abdomen. He was 45 years old and had not been to a doctor in a couple of decades. His wife forced him to finally make a visit because he was losing so much weight. I knew what he had. I ran to my supervising physician to share the case and deliver my findings and diagnosis. He went in and very sensitively and tenderly explained what we had found and the steps that would need to be taken. Dr. W knew how words and delivery could detrimentally affect the outcome of someones health. When your doctor tells you something like “you have cancer” or “you have HIV”, there is a hypercatecholamine and cortisol release that make you all kinds of crazy, suppress your immune system, create havoc in your body and mind usually unnecessarily.
This recently happened to my momma. My father was diagnosed with CLL and had to get a bone marrow biopsy. When my mom went to pick up the results to take to his regular doctor, she read “Multiple Myeloma/HIV/CLL”. To read this about your Alzheimers diseased husband was alarming to say the least. She knew it wasn’t true, but for a few moments her heart stopped, her body froze and she was lost. When she returned to talk to the physician, he brushed it off with “Oh, your husband is in his 70’s, no one will ever believe he has HIV” or “the writing is too small for you to read anyway”. This is not only inaccurate, but incredibly condescending and totally insensitive. What happened to the humanity in this guy? The empathy and ability to put yourself in your patient shoes and think “what if this was my wife’s pathology report I was getting?”
So this letter is a plea. A request for you to dig deep and find that healer that wanted so badly to go into medicine for the right reasons and not for the prestige or the money. That stuff doesn’t go to the grave with you. Maya Angelou said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
If this sickcare system is going to get any better any time soon, we have to imbue our everyday interactions with love, compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence. We have the medical knowledge, we know the textbook medicine, if you’ve graduated and are practicing, this is a given. The most imperative piece of the puzzle is the part you can’t teach, the treating your patient the way you would want to be treated. The golden rule applies here too folks.
My other recommendation is to return to your passions and your hobbies. According to God’s Hotel, by Dr. Victoria Sweet, doctors in the Middle Ages weren’t just doctors, they were doctors and professors, doctors and farmers, doctors and herbalists, doctors and barbers. How cool is this? People have made fun of me, administrators have questioned my dedication because I don’t work full-time. My patients would argue differently and say they’ve never met a provider as dedicated as me, (thank you Mr. Wright). See if you can find a way to adjust your schedule to explore your passions outside of medicine, that way you won’t get burnt out in seven years like I did and you can give your patients 110% when you are in their presence.
We are blessed with peoples lives everyday. Patients trust us with their most treasured commodity, their health. Be grateful that you get to touch peoples lives on so many different levels and use this as an opportunity to teach, empower and educate them so maybe they won’t need us as much next time.
Thank you for your reading. I hope you can reignite that spark that led you to this profession in the first place. My momma, your patients and I will thank you if you can allow it to catch fire once again.
Erica Benedicto, PA-C
P.S The picture is of my momma and papa on our way to talk to the CEO and Compliance Officer of Providence where the incident took place, we don’t take things lightly.