Thursday, May 15, 2008

Physician, heal thyself

"Physician, heal thyself" Luke 4: 23

My professional goal is to assist the human body in healing itself. Be it through medication, lifestyle changes, surgery or other interventions, my efforts are for people to live better, healthier lives. I have spent 11 years since I graduated from High School working toward this, with at least another 4 to go. The vast majority of my waking hours are spent caring for others. It is truly one of my passions.

And yet.

We spend so little time caring four ourselves. It is our own doing. There is no question that there are not enough doctors to truly see the patients who need medical care. There is a supply/demand mismatch, and we created this. With restrictions on the number of new medical students every year, as well as restrictions on the number of residents who match, we are ensuring there will always be a significant demand for our services.

Likewise, rigorous entry requirements, significant time and financial investments also put limits on the number who apply. With a population that is growing significantly faster than the number of doctors, there will be no shortage of work for those who pursue medicine as a career.

And this job security is the very thing that hinders our own self-care.

Though time has passed, the memory of my kidney stone is still fresh. Yet even more clear is the realization that I did it to myself. See, the stone hit on my last day of three continuous months on the Trauma service. Three months of 14+ hour days, 6-7 days a week, with 1-3 30 hour shifts per week thrown in for good measure takes its toll on the body. Add to that the fact that all day long you are running: to the Trauma bay to run the traumas, to the ER to see surgery consults, to any and every floor and clinic in the hospital to see consults, dealing with and organizing transfers from smaller hospitals, to the OR. Most days, the first time I had anything to drink, let alone to eat was at 7 pm or later when I finally sat down to have some dinner.

Fact: That is not conducive to being healthy. This is only compounded by the paucity of time available to exercise. We try to fit it in when we can. Often the choice is between one more precious hour of sleep, one hour of actually seeing your family before they head off to bed, or getting in that workout. It isn't hard to guess that the workout often loses.

How do we reconcile this seeming hypocrisy?

I wish I knew. I refuse to try to justify it. I know we need to work long hours to get the work done. I recognize that medicine is a rather unforgiving career, and has a history that is much worse than its present. But that doesn't excuse the self-abuse. I told my daughter that it has probably been at least 13 years since I could honestly say I wasn't tired. Most of that has been due to my efforts to get where I am today. That isn't healthy, and it isn't sustainable.

Yet the winds of change are blowing. A new generation of us are entering the profession. A generation who believe that a well balanced physician, who cares for him/herself, who has at least a little time to nurture a family or friendships, is better equipped to really connect to his patients and care for them as human beings.

Not as diagnoses.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. I'm glad you want to take care of yourself-even though you had to have a kidney stone.