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Practicing Medicine Without Suffering

I’ve suffered enough practicing medicine. Over the past 2 years I decided it’s enough. This has been my recipe for avoiding suffering in the clinic.

I’m older and wiser at 45. And I’m sure I don’t want to suffer when practicing medicine. The premise is that seeing patients in the clinic should be easy; it’s what I’ve trained for most of my life.

I created this recipe for myself to avoid suffering in medicine. For the past few years, it’s been effective. My goal is to constantly reinvent what the practice of medicine means to me should my satisfaction rate drop.

Enjoying the Patient Visit

As a physician, it’s easy to internalize society’s unrealistic expectations of us. I cannot hold myself to the infallible standards set by those who fear death and disease.

Just like death and disease, mistakes are often unavoidable. I know this to be true because we’ve spent trillions of dollars and have a legal system that can still find wrongdoing and errors.

I know that I inherently can enjoy my interactions with patients even if they are at their worst. My goal is to not suffer practicing medicine – that is a strong place to practice from.

1. Showing up at my Best

I will show up to work at my best every time. But my best may some days not be that great. That is what it means to be human.

I have good days and bad days. Some days I wake up, and I have a negative commentary about myself or the world. While dealing with that, I’ll try my best to remain there for the patient as much as possible.

It feels good to show up to a workplace and feel light with realistic expectations. What I perceive as pressure put on me by the healthcare system is really self-created.

2. Listening with Empathy

I will listen intently to the patient, and I will be kind. This is one of our most potent medicines, and I won’t let it fade away in a sterile healthcare system.

Listening means letting the patient speak and helping them express themselves. Sometimes, it’s asking questions, but never with my own agenda ahead of theirs.

Empathy is looking at the situation from the perspective of the patient. I can empathize with the angry mother who is frustrated at the lack of sleep she’s getting and just wants antibiotics for her toddler.

3. Assigning Responsibility

I am not the patient’s savior or healer. The patient is responsible for their health. My job is to educate, support, and advise them.

I have sometimes carried the patient’s burden on my shoulders only to resent them and the healthcare system.

I won’t infantilize my patients and will give them the benefit of the doubt. They can take responsibility for their health and make decisions even if I may disagree with them.

4. Avoiding Defensive Medicine

I will not practice defensive medicine but try not to miss something potentially serious.

Defensive charting and defensive ordering of tests haven’t gotten me anywhere. I would love to erroneously believe that I haven’t been sued yet because of my stellar charting. But such delusions have been proven wrong by those who’ve found themselves in a malpractice case.

To avoid suffering being a doctor, I need to put less pressure on myself.

5. Fearing Bad Outcomes

Defensive medicine puts me in a hostile place. The patient becomes an adversary. I know I am resilient enough to deal with any adverse outcomes.

Fearing a bad outcome isn’t protective against it. A physician can do a lot of things wrong and not get sued. They can do everything right, burn out, or end up before a medical board.

I will be present with the patient. I’ll show up by listening with empathy and being my most responsible self. Responsible to the patient and me.

6. Making Adjustments

I will adjust my attitude and workflow if I feel anxious before a shift or emotionally drained afterward.

My barometer for burnout is finely tuned. And I only have control over my actions and my attitude.

Perhaps my work setting is too hostile to continue working in. Maybe I need to work fewer hours. Or I need a new way of reimagining the patient-doctor relationship.

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