Surely, most of us have seen a doctor either as a patient or a patient companion. And there’s always at least one encounter when you left the clinic or hospital feeling disappointed and murmured, “ mas matagal pa ko naghintay kesa chineck up!” Because I have.
Before I became a doctor I am often a patient-for my migraine, for my scoliosis, for my atopic dermatitis, for my TMJ dysfunction. I am often heartbroken by these visits. I had to wait for almost an hour before seeing the doctor. On top of that, I am not feeling well. I am nauseated, I am in pain with 8/10 throbbing headache, or my back is uncomfortable from my misaligned spine or I am irritated w / my persistently pruritic arm rashes. I’ d wait for what seemed like forever and once I finally get to see the doctor, it would only take him less than 5 mins to dismiss the consultation. He seemed to be rushing that I felt I was not properly attended. It felt like my condition was not worth his precious time.
I disliked my attending physicians because they made me feel I am a nuisance. I was offended by their attitude. And they couldn’t blame me because I am not in my best condition. And my emotions and vanity are always greater than logic. And if I didn’t know better I would have ranted online and the rest would be history.
“If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
But now as a doctor I understand the indifference. Probably he’s tired or still hasn’t eaten his lunch at 4pm. Or maybe because my conditions were “ultrabenign” that it could be diagnosed with the first few signs and symptoms I confessed. That indeed the consultation could end in 5 mins with him being able to diagnose me accurately and prescribe the appropriate medicine. Even with just staring at me and without using the steth or ordering a CT scan. Because the myth of the clinical eye is real. I also understand because nowadays I have the same reason for my “indifference” towards my patients. Besides there’s still a long line of patients waiting to be seen and I just want to get over it asap.
But as more and more friends relay to me their horror stories of being attended by”rushing” doctors, I realized that our community needs a wake up call. Because I believe that our very attitude is one of the core reasons why doctor shaming is a growing fad nowadays. Yes, we have valid reasons. But these are relatively lame excuses. As clinicians it is crucial that we practice empathy and gentleness.
When we become doctors we should be prepared to give what the profession requires of us- time, effort, energy, money, heart. Medicine is not a half-hearted calling. Every day we improve ourselves to be worthy of the call.
“Effort not only leads to skill; It also leads to results, which makes effort twice as important as talent,” – Angela Duckworth, Grit
Let us not be brainy robots carrying out only what it is programmed to do-diagnose and treat. Let us reclaim the humanity we lost a long the way and reuse our atrophied compassion.
At times we may feel burdened by doing a thorough physical exam and further history taking for seemingly simple conditions. But we must. If that’s what it takes to make the patient feel that they are properly taken care of. We know how as patients (like lay-person kind of patient) that we expect to feel better after we saw a doctor. We know that medically, instant healing is impossible. But at least let’s give them a feel that they did the right thing visiting us.
When I was a Neurology clerk in a highly esteemed private hospital, one of our assignments is to sit in with neurology consultants during their clinic hours. And I was assigned to a really amazing female neurologist. The consultation with one of the patients lasted for 15 mins. or so. The consult ended without prescribing any medication. But I can see the relief on the patient’s face. The neurologist listened intently, asking systematically relevant questions with genuine care evident in her voice, facial expression, eye contact and appropriate gestures. Her solid attention was comforting. Her sincerity was assuring. I was watching at the sidelines and murmured to myself, “I want to be like her.” or if I am her patient during that time, I would have said to myself “if i am sick again, I would definitely come see her again.”
What kind of doctor are you right now? are you someone our juniors can look up to for an inspiration? If yourself is your doctor would you come back? Or you are someone young aspiring doctors who’d swear never to be like one? Or the patient regrets consulting to?
You can always choose how to define yourself. It’s not about the length of the visit. It’s about having the right heart that eventually manifests as the right attitude and action.