The Doctor Behind The Screen
I love what I do. I hate what I have to do.
It’s a quote that doctors attribute to their profession behind closed doors. As patients, we are so overwhelmed with our own problems. We fail to notice that our doctor may be battling her own problems with a complicated system.
But what do we care? Our meeting with the doctor is a paid transaction. We are owed our money’s due. Empathy can take a backseat.
We’ve made medicine into a business affair.
If you have constipation, you will get a prescription based on your insurance coverage. You want a fix. You get a fix.
No conversations about how to help your body overcome its diseased state – leave alone prevent it. Healing can take a backseat.
But we can think differently about healthcare by bringing empathy into the equation.
Empathy is a two way street. Developing an understanding of our doctor’s problems is a beginning in that direction.
They are stuck in a systemic mess
Insurances deny payments. Incentive schemes are skewed. Patients don’t pay up dues. Paperwork mounds. Mindless bureaucracy. Administrators demand financial performance. Legal threats loom large. Malpractice payments rise. Technology slows them down. Costs keep rising. Life-and-death ethical dilemmas. Changing guidelines. Stringent medical community. Burnout. Loss of value in society.
Doctors are nudged and hassled in a system from which there’s no way out. Yet, they are held to one of the highest performing standards of any profession.
It’s tough being a doctor today.
They are not making as much money as you think
Unlike most high-end professionals, doctors begin making money only after age 35. By then they accumulate debt through expensive, specialized education. Some continue to fight debt further into their life by buying big houses and cars out of social pressure.
When doctors start a solo practice, they are overwhelmed by the challenges of sustaining the business. When they join a group practice, they get short-end of the stick for many years before they become partners. When they join a hospital, they get a salary but function under the thumb of rigid administration.
Most doctors don’t run profitable endeavors. In fact, many give up medicine altogether because it’s tough making a living. The Physicians Foundation found that 40% of doctors want to drop out of clinical care during the next 1-3 years.
They are more depressed than you’d ever know.
About 400 doctors commit suicide every year. Physicians are more than 2x likely to kill themselves than non-physicians.
[Read NY Times Op-Ed: Silence Is the Enemy for Doctors Who Have Depression]
Given the scrutiny they are in, doctors fear social stigma more than other professionals do. Plus they have easy access to prescription drugs (including opioids) to treat themselves.
They silently move through their days by masking their problems. Never making them go away.
[See Medscape’s Gripping Interview: How One Addicted Doctor Recovered]
Doctors face pressures that the average person doesn’t. Seeing people die all the time. Feeling helpless in supporting the dying. Constant lack of sleep, particularly among interns. Studying throughout life to keep up with licenses.
Couple that with problems that many people do face. Financial pressures. Familial discord. Loneliness. Erratic lifestyles.
They have it all.
Why should you care?
Your doctor is also human. With emotions. With challenges. With the additional challenge of constantly being in the position of giving care and not receiving.
Bringing empathy to the patient-doctor relationship will accelerate the process of health care in its true sense.
It’s good for the patient. It’s good for the doctor.