Sunday, December 7, 2008

Inspirational Medicine

Last Friday NPR’s “Day to Day” radio program broadcast a segment about low morale and disaffection among primary care doctors.

A lot of doctors said they would prefer to be in another profession. Furthermore, only about five percent of the doctors-in-training are choosing primary care because of the significant medical school debt they have to repay and because they are discouraged by the daily example of unhappy older doctors.

One of the physicians interviewed on the program told how she stopped participating in health insurance plans a few years back. Another doctor who left practice complained about insurance companies that “put profits over patients.”

A third physician lamented the loss of patient contact, as well as the decline in intellectual satisfaction. The physicians said that medical practices are succumbing to the time pressure of seeing many patients with little opportunity for attention to individual situations.

I've written before about the coming shortage in primary care physicians.

Training these physicians is a source of satisfaction and pride. Each quarter a new group of family practice residents rotates through the internal medicine service at Community General Hospital. These second-year residents are from the training program St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, and they provide a real service to patients as they learn from Community’s attending physicians.

Last week one of the residents was honored as a local hero by the American Red Cross. One morning in August Dr. Michael Loeb (photo) came across a bad accident at the New York State Fairgrounds on his way home after night duty at Community General Hospital. The exhausted resident did not hesitate to stop his car and help the injured family.

Dr. Loeb described the situation for a local television station:
"…[T]he day of the crash was the day after one of the most brutal calls I’d ever had,” he said. “It had just been a crazy night…My first reaction was ‘I need to get over there [to the accident site],’…and my second was ‘This isn’t going to be pretty.’”
Dr. Loeb got out of his car and crossed the lanes of traffic to provide assistance. The following morning, I saw Dr. Loeb in the emergency department when one of the attending physicians told me what he had done. I thanked him and said his example was inspirational.

Dr. Loeb reminds us why people choose medical careers, despite the demands, distortions, and pressures of the medical marketplace. People choose medicine because they care about patients, and they want the knowledge and training to be of help.

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