So this week I started running again, figuring it was time to undo the damage from the internship-induced atrophy. When I first hit the pavement, I picked a brisk pace, thinking I would spontaneously regain my high school cross-country athleticism.
My muscles allowed the fantasy for about 1 minute and 30 seconds, which is precisely when they went to politely saying, "ow, ow, ow" to "OUCH MAN, I'M NOT PLAYING, SLOW DOWN OR YOU'RE RIDING A CHARLIE HORSE ALL THE WAY HOME." At which point, I obliged by slowing to a walk, heart pounding, all out of breath.
As I half-jogged the rest of the way (I figured a minute thirty doesn't count as much of a work out), I had some time to think about the past year and how draining it's been. By draining, I don't just mean physical, you can get through that with coffee, Snickers bars and energy drinks (though it does add up over time, as the adipose starts to settle).
The real challenges are mental, emotional and spiritual. Can you keep your cool with an unruly patient at 4:00 AM on a night with no sleep? On call nights, do you take a few precious moments out to pray, or do you go straight to the call room to veg out? Do you get upset when a nurse bugs you about something unimportant in the middle of a rough night? And in the flow of the regular day, do you remember to pray for the health of your patients, no matter what they are like?
Physicians seem to be losing the mantle of "healers," and with it, its connotations of confidant, of high character. Instead, we are "service providers" giving our "customers" the best service experience. The problem with a service model is that one's character is valuable only while a service is being provided. So for the 15 minutes you're in clinic, you're entitled to my "professional code of conduct" but the second you step outside the office (or the second you can't pay for the services); well, don't let the door hit you on the way out.
When physicians were healers, their role was not limited to the walls of a clinic or a hospital and you expected them to have high moral standards. How many people today would use the words "integrity" or "kind" or describe their physician? The most popular doctor on TV is "House," a guy with no personal morals but excellent technical/diagnostic acumen. Is this really the new incarnation of the modern physician?
At the end of the day, I can only hope to keep pushing myself forward, to not only be a knowledgeable "provider" of health care but to also develop the characteristics of a healer, no matter how backward that seems today.