“…for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” – Francis W. Peabody to Harvard students on October 21, 1925
Caring about your patient seems intuitive, right? You would think that all doctors display this human trait but I am not so sure. There it is. I am throwing it out there. Who wouldn’t care about an ill person sitting right in front of them needing their help? Well, there are doctors like this and there are reasons for their lack of caring. For one, doctors can get what is called “compassion fatigue” and they can’t seem to feel anything inside anymore. As per past entries in this series, there is no one really to talk to about this problem due to the risk of being reported to the board of medicine and so those doctors keep grinding until they snap out of it, quit or kill themselves. The medical profession is the culprit and it has beaten the life out of these good doctors. If this is you, then you know what I am talking about. Please get help.
Then there are the others. The ones that just don’t seem to care. No, not the ones who hold it inside because they are so thick skinned. No, I am talking about the ones who never thought they had to care or don’t have the innate ability to care. These people exist. I once had a medical colleague who had this. He seemed soulless to me. He would call in sick any time. He would cancel his week of patients at the last minute to paint his house then find out it was going to rain. Then he would put himself back in the schedule (after all those patients have been moved to the next week) and do nothing in the office but twiddle his thumbs because his appointment slots were empty. Come Friday he would cancel the next week of patients because the weather was going to better for painting his house and move all those patients. This happened for any project he was doing at home. There were so many other examples of this in the couple of years I worked for him that I knew it was something pathologic about him. In my opinion, unfortunately, there are a small percentage of doctors who are like this. These are the ones who run pill mills, do unethical procedures, are shoddy practitioners and are legitimately sanctioned by the board. These docs do need to move on.
Here is the problem, however. This job, in this healthcare climate, can make us all feel like we don’t care. We may feel we have compassion fatigue. Even worse, we may feel we don’t have the innate ability to care anymore like my ex-colleague. The positive spin to all of this is that you can fix the first problem. And if really you had the second problem, you would never be reading this in the first place. There is hope for you but that hope is dimming. With all the bogus metrics, quality indicators, suspect patient satisfaction scores and loss of control to administrators, you will teeter on the edge of not caring any more. I can guarantee that. Don’t give up. Instead, break free of the addiction to sucking at the teat of the government, the insurance companies and the hospitals and will you be a better doctor. You will be able to care for the patient again.