I am a medical doctor in Pennsylvania. My specialty is psychiatry and I have been actively involved in the Physicians’ Health field since 1991, dealing primarily with depression and burnout in doctors. In 2002 I developed a severe illness that gradually rendered me unable to walk. Over the next two years I saw multiple doctors and, though I was clearly describing my symptom progression to them, I was unable to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment. I slowly became unable to walk, work, or function.
Although I finally did get to the correct physician as a result of my own determination and research, and am now stable and working, this experience as a patient has greatly influenced my subsequent practice.
Studies in the USA have shown that the overwhelming majority of first-year medical students enter into a career in healthcare in order to help others in need. By the middle of the first year, however, burnout has set in, this altruistic motivation is gone, and students are detached from their core passion and purpose to serve. They feel increasing stress, detachment, and defensiveness. Without intervention this only gets worse as their career progresses. In my education and intervention with physicians I help them reconnect with that inner passion to serve others, to develop increased self-knowledge and a resilient lifestyle. The result is that doctors engage in empathic care with patients, and medical errors and misdiagnoses decrease.
When I was a patient I reported all the symptoms needed for a correct diagnosis but a series of doctors discounted my experiences and I suffered the severe physical and emotional cost of a missed diagnosis. This life-changing event increased my passion for teaching doctors the essential skills of professionalism: listening to the patient, communicating with the patient, and showing empathy for the patient’s experience.
Without the passion to serve and the skills to serve well, all the knowledge, tests, drugs and procedures in the world are not enough to heal patients.