Every now and then, I see a patient who reminds me why I chose to do what I do and why I do it the way that I do it.
When I was applying for medical school, I was sternly warned by friends not to say “to help people” when asked during an interview why I want to go into medicine. It was trite and overused I was told, and the interviewers are tired of hearing it. But what was I supposed to say? This was exactly my purpose, as corny as that sounds. I wasn’t going into it for the money. It wasn’t for the pride or honor. It wasn’t even because I enjoyed science. I could have found a much more laid back, lucrative, non-stressful job. So when they asked me during my interview, “So, tell us why you want to be a doctor” I told them that despite the admonitions of well-meaning friends, I had to say “to help people.”
Now somewhere between professors who wanted you to memorize every first, second, and third generation cephalosporin, the 40-hour shifts as an intern, the introduction to ICD-9 and CPT codes, prior auths, and meaningful use, I have from time to time lost focus. During the grueling years of training, some days, the goal was just to make it through the day without being grilled by a faculty member. As a young attending, you learn to document everything and dot your “i”s and you learn to code effectively.
When I opened my practice, I wanted to refocus on patients. I made the office schedule in a way that I thought would be convenient to more patients. We call patients with their test results, good or bad, and tell them to call us if they don’t hear from us within a reasonable number of days (I generally say a week) to make sure we received the results. We talk to them and we listen, and from the feedback we have been getting, apparently we are a rarity.
But it takes a toll. It is physically and emotionally exhausting. Patients pour out there personal and family problems to us, and both my associate and I don’t have the heart to not listen. We let them vent, even if there is not much we can do but hear them out. There are many days, that by 5 p.m., we are spent, and we wonder why we do this.
Then there are patients like “Jane.” She came in for her routine visit. She had a couple of physical complaints but overall was doing well. I offered her a couple of treatment options and she chose one. I was wrapping up, I told her to let me know if there was anything she needed. I didn’t think it was different than any other typical visit, until she said, “You are the nicest doctor I have ever known.” Wow. I’m sure she has no idea how uplifting that is. A simple statement, but a reminder that caring for people, helping them, is why I do crazy thing called private practice.
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