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How To Be A Socially Responsible Physician

Working Towards Becoming A Socially Responsible Physician

I used to be a bit more self-absorbed in the past, caught up trying to secure the biggest slice of the consumer lifestyle. I managed to outgrow that phase and found a more minimalist lifestyle which happens to match my personality quite well.

I started this post a while back before I became financially independent. I start most of my posts with a ton of bullet points, then go back and create an outline and just fill in each section. So here it is, this post is about how I can work towards becoming a socially responsible physician. I’m not sure I would have been able to do this earlier – though, in hindsight, had I put more energy into achieving the goals below, perhaps I wouldn’t have tried so hard to retire out of my full-time job.

Gotta Lead By Example

I can’t be indifferent towards patients or short with my staff if I want to be the kind of physician that one could model others after. I have to set a positive tone regardless of how stressful the work environment is or how toxic the management is.

There is never a perfect workplace, though my Kaiser Permanente gig in Portland, Oregon came as close to an ideal job as I can ever imagine. There are always either tough individuals or tough systems to deal with.

I think leading by example extends to the rest of my life as well, maybe even more so. I can’t be curt because I have a lot of chores due one day and I can’t talk down to someone else because they don’t have my training, education or income.

Live Close To The Average Person

It’s not about living in proximity to the average American but being able to relate. A while ago I read something that resonated well with me, something about imagining being the other person when you are interacting with them. Whether they are being rational or irrational, trying to be them completely and trying to feel and see everything from their perspective as if they were me.

I don’t want to hold such strong world views that I cannot relate to anyone else. It’s okay for me to be vegan but I’m not better because of it. It’s okay to not have a car but I’m not doing something more important for the environment than another person. These aren’t always easy, but I’ve learned that the more I remind myself of it, the more I believe it.

With a high income, it’s easy to carve out the kind of life that isolates us from the rest of the population, a disconnect can develop which only deepens the longer we stay in practice.

I’m still grappling with the concept of income. It’s really tough to relate to another person, especially in casual conversation, when they are making $30k a year and you’re making $300k. The world view completely changes with that extra zero – it’s interesting to observe, specifically due to the value society puts on higher income.

Imagining the other person having fun biking to work or sitting around over drinks with their own friends, enjoying a great laugh with their loved ones, those are the thoughts that have helped me to relate to them and deemphasizing the income difference.

Giving Back To My Community

Giving back doesn’t have to be a scribbled out check to my local church or a donation to the homeless shelter. I can give back in numerous ways which don’t involve money.

I can offer a neighbor a hand when they are moving in or out. So often, I’ve found myself in too much of a hurry to stop, ask and see if the person could use a hand. And I don’t mean just stopping on the side of the freeway when a cute girl has a flat, even the ugly, hairy, stranded guy deserves my lending hand.

I have gotten involved with a large community organization which provides health care to homeless youth and other outpatient services. I can build on this further, possibly by taking on a more active role in the organization. A position is currently available to be the medical director of this organization – I don’t think I’m quite ready to enter the full-time world anytime soon.

There are a ton of community projects out there that I can still get involved in. Even Kaiser had a few great ones that they would do throughout the year. I can get involved in homeless shelters, prisons, libraries and art centers. A friend of mine organizes trips to Philippines with surgeons doing cleft repair and another friend still, organizes medical trips to orphanages in Mexico.

Physicians have such a valuable commodity in the unique skillset they possess. If we can get to a point of cutting back some hours at our jobs and replacing them with volunteer positions in clinics or teaching institutions then we would fill an incredible need for access in our communities.

Be A Steward Of Natural Resources

I used to fly down the highway with an H2 Hummer, getting 9.4 miles to the gallon. I am not sure where that falls on the sanity spectrum, somewhere between insecure man-child and a fuck-the-world mentality.

I don’t own a car now, but I think even if I did then I could simply choose to take public transport a few times a month. I could bike more often to work or just avoid driving when not necessary.

I used to be a major carnivore, beef being a major part of my diet. And though I don’t think everyone needs to be vegan, cutting back drastically on meat intake can help the environment drastically.

Recycling is a joke, it’s fine to do it but it provides the exact kind of false sense of accomplishment which plagues this world. Decreasing my waste will go much farther – I’m still working on this as I’m staring at my trash in my kitchen.

Being stingy with natural resources isn’t only about the environment. The countless wars we’ve fought in the US recently have all been about preservation of access to cheap resources. The instability of infrastructure in other nations is a prerequisite for us to have a laptop that costs less than what it would cost to ship that same piece of tech from one country to another – makes you think, doesn’t it?

Be Financially Independent

I had to throw financial independence in there because I still believe that when we are dependent on income then it’s easier to make a decision for the sake of job security as opposed to what’s best for the patient and for us.

The bondage to labor, generating a wage is probably the strongest form of voluntary slavery which I’ve been involved in. The Persian Kunta Kinte, right over here.

Of course it’s possible to not be swayed by income, debt or financial hardship, it’s just that it’s not easy. Even having a solid plan to get out of debt and be less dependent on income is a fantastic start, not much else needed beyond that.

I guess this is more of a stage in the evolution of a physician’s career. Those of us who start as employees tend to have to practice to the likings of our medical group. With time, if we’re able to decrease reliance on income, we’re able to do more of the things we think are important and if we’re a good enough asset to the organization, they will either put up with us or we can always find alternative ways of practicing medicine.

Raise Kids With A Sense Of Independence

I was raised to rely on many social structures, but fortunately raised to think for myself. I feel that children who are taught to build their own independence through social networks, diligent work and independent thinking, not only do better in life but also are able to create better communities.

If our kids can learn to pursue what matters to them, whatever seems to be their passion and they learn how to generate an income doing what they love at a young age, then they’ll grow up with a sense of independence and won’t cave into the most common societal pressures.


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