Physician, heal yourself – or at least your attitude

It's time both doctors and front-line staff began to reflect the kind of compassionate care we deserve and should expect

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An open letter to health-care professionals:

Let’s agree that having to see a doctor or being admitted to a hospital is an activity that greatly impacts our overall physical and psychological well-being.

Now, let’s pretend that the receptionists and front office staff at a medical clinic are actually a reflection of the kind of care one can expect inside. It may come as a shock to many doctors, nurse practitioners and hospital administrators that I’m judging the worth and capability of all of you as care providers and, in the case of the administrators, of the institutions you represent, based on this first encounter.

Let’s suppose and grant the fact that most of the front-of-clinic staff are good at whatever their jobs are – patient management, scheduling, record-keeping, and liaising with other medical offices and health professionals. That part of their job benefits the doctors, hospitals and clinics they serve.

However, as a patient I can’t even quantify in an atomic particle sense how little I care whether a person in that position is good at that part of their job. As a patient, I want them to be good at the care part of health care and treat me – for our brief time together – as if they actually give a damn about my needs and my concerns.

I want them to give an outward sign that they understand that I’m a fully-functioning human with the same kaleidoscope of concerns, obligations and responsibilities as their employers. I want them to understand that I have a boss who wants me at my job and a family who wants me at home, and all the attendant demands on my time and finances that real people have. If they were horses, I would perhaps ask them to stomp their hooves if they grasped this part of life and that it applies to the individual before them.

Now, let’s make a further leap and suppose that it would be gratifying to most who have to seek out the care of a doctor to have a pleasant interaction with these people. We could at least be given the courtesy of having them pretend to be engaged and caring individuals who are there to serve the patient. In other words, let them have the kind of fake sincerity that we would expect of a cashier in a department store or a server in a restaurant.

Any business that deals with those annoying creatures called humans on a regular basis would be out of business if they treated their customers and consumers with the same blatantly rude, perfunctory and often downright hostile manner that many receive when having to interact with this front line of patient care – whether in person or, God forbid, on the phone.

Nor will I excuse those doctors who feel they are somehow magically removed from the requirements of being decent to those they serve. That has become so commonplace as to become cliché. For those to whom that applies, their arrogance and lack of emotional skill seems to stem from the fact that the burden of their knowledge and skill is so overwhelming that it has short-circuited that part of the brain that governs empathy and understanding.

Are they overburdened? You bet they are.

Is that in any way an excuse? No.

The kind of things that one person can do for another to make them feel valued, safe and cared for don’t come with a price tag, nor are they in any way dependent on whether there are one or 100 before them. A ticketing agent at an airport who was only able to muster the strength of will and character to be decent to a few of the passengers, then was rude, dismissive and belittling to the rest would soon find themselves in another profession, because they would most certainly be dismissed from that one.

And I guess that’s my point. Find your humanity or find another job.

Signed, your patient.

PS: Have a nice day.

Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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