Remembering why we are family doctors
By Ajay Gupta, MD
TAFP President, 2015-2016
We have all been there. None of us are immune. It’s a tough environment to be a physician these days. It does not matter if you are in solo or small group practice, direct primary care, academic medicine, employed by a large hospital practice, in administrative care or any other setting. No matter what setting you’re in, your days are filled with issues of managed care, human resources, scheduling issues, accounts payable, paper pushing, and the like. Today I want to reflect for a moment on why we do any of this.
When we applied for medical school, many of us were prepared for the inevitable interview question: “Why do you want to be a doctor?” We all know the correct answer: “I want to help my fellow human beings.” We go on to elaborate on how as physicians we can have the greatest positive effect on people’s lives. We recall the influences in our early lives that helped us make this decision. We want to help people with their problems. We pay our respects to teachers, policeman, fireman, and the countless other practitioners in professions who do the same. But let’s admit as we go further into our careers and as our priorities change, sometimes we lose track of these reasons. I may be biased but I really believe as a family physician, those moments are fewer than some of our specialist colleagues. But the point is even as family physicians, we still have these moments. We are human beings after all.
Recently I had some dramatic changes in my physician career. I left my practice (which subsequently closed) that I had been with for 17 years. In announcing my departure, I was reminded several times a day why I became a family physician. This was further enhanced by the countless number of kind letters, cards, and emails from my patients. We really do make an impact on our patients’ lives. We lose sight of this at times because we are so caught up in all the non-physician care responsibilities our jobs require. We provide a source of comfort, a shoulder to lean on, and a person to talk to in time of crisis. We make people feel better. Some of my patients were even angry I was leaving them. You see, many patients expected me to be around longer than them.
The process of leaving the practice caused me to reflect on all of the above. Being a physician allows me to teach my patients. Usually our patients don’t feel well when they see us. They come to us for help and guidance. The more the patient can learn how to help themselves, the more power and capability they have to get better. Patients remember the doctors who sat and explained the issues to them. It’s something we keep in mind whenever we also refer patients to specialists since many of the patients view them as an extension of us to some degree.
Being a doctor allows you to stretch your own mental capacity. As family physicians we’re expected to have a broad scope of knowledge. It’s what attracted many of us to this specialty. Yet several times a week most of us see something that we have never seen before. This is certainly the case as a MS 22 (medical student/year, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Carlos Pestana) and most likely will be the case when I am a MS 40 and beyond. We learn from our patients. It may not always be a medical fact but many times a life fact. We learn to adjust and meet the needs of each individual patient.
As a doctor we learn that we are not omnipotent. We will make mistakes and hopefully catch them before they become issues that have a negative impact. The most we can ask of ourselves is to do our best. This mantra is something we relay to our children and it’s something that we should all practice. Patients do not expect us to know everything. They know we are human and there is so much to learn out there. They do expect us to care and comfort them. They don’t know our grades from medical school or our board scores. They grade us on how well we listen, educate, care, and make efforts to improve their quality of life. In the end, this is really how we help people.
The next time you get bogged down by an insurance issue, a human resources issue, or a bill to pay, please remember why you do what you do. Family physicians are the best at helping people. You will feel even more satisfied at the end of the day. Finally, remember to thank each patient for allowing you to be their doctor.