Jordana Rothschild, M.D. recently contributed an article to KevinMD discussing the perception that patients have about their doctors.
Dr. Rothschild believes that the system we have created gives people the feeling that immortality can be achieved. We are told to demand precise answers and solutions to our health problems. She points out that doctors are expected to be selfless supporters who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.
According to Dr. Rothschild, many physicians have reached the breaking point.
We have COVID to thank for bringing these issues to the forefront. At the onset of COVID, we continued to believe that thanks to our exceptional teams of doctors, researchers, and scientists we would overcome the virus almost immediately. The world expected it, and we expected immediate solutions.
Fear of Failure
Researcher Brene Brown asks whether doctors are willing to put themselves in a position of vulnerability by attempting to solve health problems that so far have proven to be unsolvable.
When an unexpected event occurs, many doctors feel a great sense of failure. Failing patients, colleagues, and even themselves. The greatest fear can be not knowing the answer, or worse, coming up with the wrong answer, which can have catastrophic consequences.
Dr. Rothschild looks back at her training. She always believed in medicine because it was a science. That the answers exist, and if she does the right thing, every case is solvable.
Utopia Versus Reality
In true Utopian fashion, Dr. Rothschild believed that by working together doctors will be able to solve all health problems. That they will always find the right treatment and diagnosis so that patients will be cured.
But in reality, she finds a world with doctors who are suffering from burnout. Trust is no longer evident. In fact, not only do patients not trust their doctors, the doctors do not trust each other.
Dr. Rothschild paints a grim picture of so many doctors who are not only tired but drained of incentive and the will to accomplish outstanding results. She attributes a portion of these disincentives to being taught to remain detached from their patients and their work.
Preparing for a Medical License
The years of training and education are daunting. Dr. Rothschild explains that doctors really do know more than most people about human physiology, medicine, and science. That most doctors really do care and really do try hard to heal the patient.
But again, she emphasizes that right now doctors are burnt out with no one to help them heal. They are experiencing the same anxiety as most people. Dr. Rothschild believes that there is no one right answer but many answers.
Doctors try to hide their emotions, to act tough and hide their fears by using scientific facts. When they speak with and listen to their patients, they also maintain an arms-length distance.
When doctors dedicate their lives to their work, they do not expect it to be a two-way street. They do not expect emotional rewards from their colleagues or patients. But a one-way relationship is not fulfilling. Patients can tell if a doctor is holding back. If so, both parties are affected.
This may be contrary to some teaching, but Dr. Rothschild believes the practice of medicine would benefit if doctors were encouraged to allow vulnerability into their practice. She reminds readers that medical practice is not all black and white. That doctors may not always know the answer or control the outcome. That we all must at some point face the inevitable.
Taking this one step further, if saving a life is a measure of success, then every doctor is eventually going to fail.
The Grass is Always Greener
Dr. Rothschild recently spoke with Jerome Brown, who was a friend during her residency. She looks back on it as the most difficult year of her life. She was married with children and constantly feeling overwhelmed.
On the other hand, Dr. Brown seemed to be brilliant and always in control of his work and his life. She even felt somewhat jealous of the ease with which he managed events during their year of residency.
On the contrary, Dr. Brown told her that he was always impressed with the way she managed that year compared to so many “of us” he said, who were floundering. So it is evident that the interns were all at various stages of burnout and concerned about being criticized for needing help. The caveat here is that when we are conscious of needing help, we tend to judge others who need our help.
In truth, when we face our struggles honestly it is really a sign of compassion and courage. It is only human to need others. Dr. Rothschild reconsiders her residency and wonders if the interns had relied more on each other, would they now have better coping skills?
She also wonders if doctors were to acknowledge their vulnerability, would that raise the level of trust among patients as well?
In conclusion, Dr. Rothschild suggests that no one has all the answers. She believes that if doctors admit their vulnerability, they will gain their patients’ trust.