Some people may think medical providers join the profession for the pay, status, or job stability. My experience, however, has been that the work is challenging, the pay is dropping, and every provider I know is doing it because they care about people.
As the Dennis Rosen, MD, writing in the New York Times recently quoted the mother of a son with a genetic abnormality, "I like the people in health care. People in health care, they don’t stare at my son like he’s some kind of freak, you know? They see him for who he is." And the child's doctor affirmed the connection, saying, "I have yet to meet a child who fails to kindle my compassion or to bring out in me the most basic desire to try to help."
Caring about people in medicine becomes more difficult every day.
This basic desire to connect and help can easily be thwarted by the realities of the job, however. Nearly half of medical providers experience burnout and when they do, they can lose their sense of empathy for others and feel deeply isolated and emotionally exhausted.
The connection between this disconnection and the burdens providers face is clear: "A significant proportion of doctors feel trapped, thwarted by the limited time they are allowed to spend with patients, stymied by the ever-changing rules set by insurers and other payers on what they can prescribe or offer as treatment and frustrated by the fact that any gains in efficiency offered by electronic medical records are so soon offset by numerous, newly devised administrative tasks that must also be completed on the computer." (Article here.)
Of course, we often think technology makes this kind of isolation and burnout worse. We get the sense that if we could return to a world before EMRs, incessant messages, and endless paperwork, we could connect with our patients. But the truth is that technology isn't going anywhere and our only choice is how to use it in our service.
For instance, we've found that by using Hybrid Store-and-Forward Telemedicine, we're able to deal with consults more quickly, leaving more time and energy for the patient sitting right in front of us. Our colleagues have also found that collaboration and communication with other providers and patients can (1) cut that sense of isolation and (2) decrease the unfinished issues, both of which are so damaging. Finally, we believe that when we take small steps to take ownership over our day and our work, we feel more able to survive, thrive, and connect.
So it's not that it's impossible to connect in this modern day of medicine. It just takes a return to the collaboration, communication, and empathy that got us into this work in the first place.
For more stories of medical collaboration, click here:
Image courtesy of lencioni on Flickr, used under Creative Commons rights.