Re-Embracing the Joy & Meaning of Medicine

Re-Embracing the Joy & Meaning of Medicine


After reading the opinion column article in the Washington Post on February 12, 2016, “The Art of Doctoring is Dying,” I felt compelled to respond.

At Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland we value and understand the critical importance of a sacred and healing relationship between the patients we serve and our caregiver team. That is why our physicians decided to be proactive in an effort to remind ourselves why we began practicing medicine in the first place – to help others. Thanks to our collaboration with The Institute of Healthcare Excellence and its executive director, William Maples, M.D., our journey has helped ensure we keep the humanity in medicine.

Too often I hear stories from patients who tell me that their physicians don’t have time to listen to them. These patients perceive that physicians prefer a cold and impersonal relationship with their patients resorting to documenting on the computer rather than listening to the patient. This is not true.

Physicians want to know their patients. They want to care for them and help them be well, but often the regulatory and financial woes physicians sometimes face have impeded their ability to care for patients in a way that gives us joy.

The physicians at Suburban Hospital have embarked upon an aggressive campaign to reconnect with our patients through a “communication in healthcare” initiative. At the core of efficient, safe and human-centered patient care is strong communication. The Institute for Healthcare Excellence provided us with access to a collection of industry leaders focused on improving the design of patient, family and caregiver experiences to help us create an environment of excellence. They offer a skills-based communication curriculum aimed at creating an exceptional patient and caregiver experience while simultaneously enhancing value.

Core principles of the Communication in Healthcare initiative are:

  1. That it be owned and delivered by physician and allied health leaders within a healthcare organization.
  2. That it is relevant to the daily experience of physicians and caregivers.
  3. That it is financially feasible and sustainable.

We are involving our patients as partners in their care and improving our communications skills with patients and families. As the American population ages our responsibility is to provide our patients with an excellent and memorable healthcare experience. At Suburban Hospital, we are doing this by teaching one another the skills necessary to create a culture of excellence where the outcomes, safety and experiences of our patients and caregivers will be exceptional and embraces teamwork, compassion, respect and trust. Physicians are teaching other physicians to focus on our patients and putting humanity back into medicine where it should have been all along.

We know that good medicine requires an emotional bond between patients and physicians. We also know that the wellbeing of our patients depends on the wellbeing of physicians. Accordingly, we have begun to focus on how to “heal the healer.” The physicians at Suburban Hospital are also undertaking a program to treat physician burnout. Our team is coming together to help one another to build resilience techniques into our daily lives. We understand that our colleagues need to take care of themselves before they can provide exceptional care to our patients, and we aim to support this.

We want our physician colleagues to know that the work that they do makes a difference in peoples’ lives. What motivates us as physicians is bringing an element of significance to other human beings — our patients, our colleagues and our families. Without that sense of significance and satisfaction, we cannot go home at night feeling good about our day nor can we wake up the next morning eager for the day ahead.

The art of doctoring is not dying, but rather the “Art of Medicine” is changing and the way that physicians approach patient care is morphing faster than we ever thought possible. Medicine will continue to evolve as we add new knowledge and technology at an unprecedented pace. But, how do we do that and not lose the close, personal touch with patients and the patient/family relationship with our physicians? The challenge is to learn new methods of practicing medicine as it continues to evolve so that we are mindful of our personal connection with our patients is not lost.

By Diane Colgan M.D.
Suburban Hospital
Bethesda, Maryland

My views do not necessarily reflect the views of Suburban Hospital.
Diane Colgan, M.D., a privately practicing plastic surgeon

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