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The Physician Advocate: Bringing Patient Care Back to the Center


Physician Outlook is celebrating National Physician Week by featuring various physician writers. The significance of the patient-physician relationship in medicine is the thread that weaves together Dr. Sanchez' book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine. Below are excerpts from the book, which is being used around the country in medical boards, schools, and residency programs to unite, equip, and empower physicians as leaders and as human beings.

The Physician Advocate: Bringing Patient Care Back to the Center

Excerpts from the book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine

By Amaryllis Sánchez Wohlever, MD

The significance of the patient-physician relationship in medicine is the thread that weaves together my book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine. Below are excerpts from the book, which is being used around the country in medical boards, schools, and residency programs to unite, equip, and empower physicians as leaders and as human beings.

 

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A few years ago, I was one of about thirty physicians invited to the U.S. Capitol for advocacy skills training and to meet with legislators. That weekend, I met some of the most outstanding physicians I’ve ever met—each one, like me, deeply committed to patient safety, improving healthcare, and bringing the patient-physician relationship back to the center of all we do.

 

Meeting these physicians and advocating alongside them for high standards of care was both inspiring and empowering. They are CEO’s, presidents, and founders of national and international physician and healthcare organizations, each one working on a particular aspect of our ailing healthcare system. Together, we covered just about every element of healthcare. 

 

As I boarded the plane back home, I rejoiced to recognize we are the catalysts our healthcare system needs so desperately. 

 

Together, physicians can redirect the future of healthcare. Together, we can bring the patient-physician relationship back to the center where it belongs. Together, we can change healthcare for our patients and for ourselves, so our sense of autonomy and meaning in medicine is restored.

 

Yes, we must take every opportunity to bring that sacred patient-physician relationship back to the center of all we do, since it is the foundation of our calling as physicians. It is, in fact, what drew us to this profession in the first place.

 

You may be wondering, what does “take every opportunity” look like? Well, are you in the middle of a soul-crushing meeting in which RVU’s (relative value units—how physicians are “compensated”) have been exalted, again, above the care of your patients? Say something to bring the patient’s needs and your desire to meet them back into the conversation. Like so many of us, do you feel devalued at work? Reach out to a colleague and start a small group to get to know each other and return to your roots as a physician—camaraderie, service, and a commitment to excellence. Bring the conversation back to what matters most: your patient, your team, and you!

 

When asked what is most satisfying about medical practice in the 2018 Survey of American Physicians by The Physicians Foundation, 78.7% of physicians replied exactly what I would have answered and predicted: the patient-physician relationship.





 

As physician leaders, we are a key part of the solution to the growing maze that is modern Western healthcare. Without our active participation, this crisis will only worsen. During a time when it’s tempting to merely survive on the sidelines, we must engage more than ever—within our communities, in our hospitals and clinics, and at the state and national levels, politically and legislatively. There is no other way out of this mess. Physicians must engage fully and lead healthcare again.

 

It is time to change the culture of medicine to one of modeled wellness, physician-led teamwork with appropriate supervision, and true servant leadership. To accomplish this, physicians need to embody personally and professionally the changes needed organizationally throughout healthcare.

 

The new landscape in healthcare now features more than ten non-clinical administrators to every one physician. For every physician who stops speaking up, non-clinical voices with limited understanding of the real needs in patient care rise unopposed. Physicians who turn passive, justifiably afraid to lose their jobs or being labeled “disruptive,” perpetuate the problem. Indeed, we all need more courage and support than ever to navigate these stormy waters. 

 

As physicians, we are the ones who pledge to keep patients first, which begs the question, if we don’t advocate for the needs of our patients, who will?

 

As I speak to my colleagues across the country, my message is simple. We cannot give what we do not have, so we need unswerving support at work and healthy boundaries. We also need to rise up and reclaim our place as leaders in healthcare reform and day-to-day practice. We must rediscover and fine tune our collective voice and let it be heard with confidence to champion true physician-led, patient-centered care. 

 

As the leaders of the healthcare team, we must appreciate and revitalize our crucial position of influence. We must advocate more effectively for our needs and the needs of our teams, our profession, and our patients in our offices, hospitals, nursing homes, training programs, health centers, … and all the way to the Capitol. 

 

So, colleagues, let us do our part. I’m convinced this is our path to restoring the foundation of medicine, rebuilding healthcare, and recapturing joy in medicine. We are not data entry clerks and our patients are not our customers. We are not bean counters motivated by numbers. We are also not “providers” of a product. We are physicians caring for human beings with complex medical, physical, surgical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs. 

 

We are human beings caring for human beings.

 

As physicians, we vow to help, respect, and protect our patients, doing all we can to heal and not harm. We are not machines, and our worth is not defined by patient satisfaction scores or rating websites, nor is it measured in productivity graphs and numbers. 

 

We are human beings caring for people with overwhelming needs, and caring for them with excellence requires years of training, knowledge, skill, attentive listening, compassion, creativity, resourcefulness, ongoing learning, dedication, time, the gift of presence, and more. 

 

As physicians of the 21st century, we are called to more—so much more than what we have tolerated and accepted. Our calling is to heal bodies and souls, and you can’t do that in less time than a sitcom lasts. 

 

As physician leaders in the midst of a healthcare crisis, we have a high calling. The time to fulfill it is now. 

 

Author Bio: Amaryllis Sánchez Wohlever, MD is a Board-certified family physician, a coach for physicians, and a national speaker in the areas of physician wellness, leadership, advocacy, and burnout prevention. She is a graduate of the Karl M. Altenburger, MD Physician Leadership Academy and the author of Recapturing Joy in Medicine. Dr. Sánchez can be reached through her website: www.faithfulMD.com. 

 

© 2019-20 Amaryllis Sánchez Wohlever, MD. All Rights Reserved.

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