A recent article published in the New York Times by Dr. DANIELLE OFRI, M.D. boasts a realistic perspective on how the daily grind can wear on a medical professional’s patience and optimism. When it comes to sitting with patients in the confines of the examination rooms, the healing and diagnosing magic happens. However, outside those patient room doors, the monotony of administrative paperwork, record keeping, insurance filing and Beurocracy can be daunting and even disheartening. Not to mention the constant threat of legal action from medical malpractice claims and dissatisfied griping from patients who are on the lookout for a legal fight. Dr. Ofri provided an open perspective about both those viewpoints in her article, but in the end, she would not change a thing about her decision to stay on the medical frontlines. “When I close the door to the exam room and it’s just the patient and me, with all the bureaucracy safely barricaded outside, the power of human connection becomes palpable,” Ofri confessed. “I can’t always make my patients feel better, but the opportunity to try cannot be underestimated.”
For my own life as a doctor, I beg to differ.
Don’t get me wrong. When I first started practicing medicine, after the years of medical school, I had a fresh and inspired perspective like most medical students. Of course, I loved my patients dearly. I knew their families and their dogs. I also knew about the deaths and the marital affairs. I knew when a longtime patient’s husband decided he was gay, and how she prayed in church for him and her marriage. I consoled her when he still chose to move out. I felt like a counselor in many ways, having been invited in to the confidences of my patients’ private lives. I loved the older couples who were like my surrogate parents. I enjoyed the home-made brownies with the Ghirardelli chips and the wooden Uncle Sam model that was hand made for me.
However, after years of working in the profession, my perspective changed. Medicine became to me daily source of drudgery and stress. The dream of helping people in medical distress, and the deep relationships that I developed with people who came to see me on a regular basis was not enough to outweigh the labor of insurance paperwork, the difficulty of not getting paid, the taunting of lawyers breathing down my neck and the rudeness of people yelling at me when they said I did not respect their time because they had to wait to see me.
Yes, I changed lives for the better. I removed a man’s cataract, which was so bad, he was considered to be blind. When the procedure was complete, and we removed his bandages, he looked at me with a big smile and tears rolling down his face, and told me that this is the first time he knew I was black and beautiful! It felt good to serve those who needed my medical attention, and appreciated it.
But, I missed family vacations and parties. Someone else had the privilege of being with my sons as they were infants. I was choosing a work life that – for me personally – was preventing myself from experiencing true joy. So, I changed my course, and now I use my medical background to help people in other ways – while enjoying a life of balance. Call me a medical cynic. But I made the right decision for myself, my family, and those around me whom I am better equipped to serve.