What I Wish I Could Tell my Patients.
The death of the doctor-patient relationship.
I would like to apologise for not being able to provide you with the care you deserve these days. You spend weeks getting a GP appointment just to be sent home after a quick ten-minute consultation. You spend endless hours in the A&E waiting rooms because your problem cannot wait for weeks, but after your tests for acute life-threatening conditions come back as normal, I will have to send you back to your GP with the same problem you entered with in the first place. I know you are struggling, and as a doctor, I know this is not good enough.
When you present your problem, I want to be able to provide you with the care you deserve. I want to give you the time, energy and continuity of care that is required to create rapport so that I can solve your problems. I entered this profession to serve your needs and make you feel better. My purpose, which keeps me going, is to provide excellent care which makes you feel supported in your most difficult times. When I cannot offer this level of care, I do not get the fuel that I need so much to stoke the fires, and I quickly burn out under the relentless pressure.
Our journeys as doctors are often different but know that most of us took up our calling to be a doctor to serve your overall holistic well-being. Like many, my story started with a childhood hero to whom I looked up to, who inspired me to serve your needs. In my case, it was my grandfather.
When I was a little girl, I was running behind my grandfather’s footsteps and watched his every move. He was 2m tall, had a stern complexion but had a loving core to his being. Although he was a vascular surgeon, he was also a classic doctor who considered the overall well-being of the Patient before and after surgery. He didn’t only diagnose a vascular problem, operated on them and discharge them to their GP. He was the GP, the social worker, the psychologist, the man who knew his Patient’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. He was their confidant from their birth until their last breath. His holistic ways inspired me at an early age to become a doctor.
Getting through the sciences in high school in preparation for my medical degree, then doing my foundation training and finally getting accepted to train as a general surgeon seemed like everything I ever wanted at the time. While I enjoyed every minute I spent in the operating theatre, operating day and night through holidays and birthdays, I started to feel a hollowness that was impossible to ignore. Years of quick ward rounds, endless rotations between hospitals, infinite paperwork, exams, audits and research projects left very little time to spend with my patients. I had to realise that the doctor-patient interaction and the holistic approach to patient care are no longer how we practice medicine. This realisation of endlessly chasing targets, filling out endless paperwork, instead of spending time on caring for my patient’s deeply concerned me.
After long nights of self-reflection, I made the painful decision to quit surgical training without a plan, but with the knowledge that there must be a better way to treat patients and I could not stop searching until I found it.
Being your doctor is my calling. This deep desire to serve your being will continue to push me daily to find ways to redefine how I practice medicine, even if it means that I will have to redefine how our present medical institution delivers healthcare to you. You see, my calling means that the resurrection of the doctor-patient relationship is not only what you are looking for, but also what I need to keep both of us going.