By Ebaad Malick, M.D.
Have you ever been to a play, a concert, or a sporting event featuring your favorite team? How many times have we all done these things and ended up feeling disappointed? We come in with grand expectations and judge a performance in our own unique and subjective ways. However, one thing we don’t stop to think about is all the sacrifice and hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Not only don’t we think about that, but quite frankly, we usually don’t even care. The last time I saw my favorite NBA team get blown away in the playoffs, I certainly didn’t hear any hecklers yelling about how much they appreciated the effort and sacrifices made by the players to give it their best shot that day. If people pay a lot of money and take time out of their schedule to go do something, they don’t want to be let down.
Now let’s think about your last doctor’s visit. Did you feel slightly disappointed? Did you suddenly remember that one last question you wanted to ask right after the doctor left the room? Did you feel nervous and have to fill out a bunch of forms that you didn’t understand? Unfortunately, these are common complaints these days about visits to doctors. On the other side, physicians feel that tight schedules, never-ending documentation, and a feeling of decline of the once-cherished patient-doctor relationship take a toll on them as well. We understand that when you are sick, the last thing you want to do is answer a question about your allergies, or what medicines you currently take, and other questions that seem to be “unimportant.” All of this boils down to patients not feeling that their needs are being properly addressed, or feeling that they are not getting the care that they were seeking. We physicians understand that, and I want to take a moment to talk about the ‘method to our madness.’
You see, what seems like little more than a short face-to-face visit with your doctor is really much more than that. Admittedly, patients have some very valid complaints about our modern healthcare system. However, I often wish that patients could see how much work, preparation, and care goes into your visit behind the scenes. Before I even come into the room, I have looked through your chart, examined your previous notes, reviewed your bloodwork, and looked up information to brush up on any potential problems that you might be having. I double-check every potential medical “red flag” to make sure I don’t miss anything. However, out of sight, out of mind: it is difficult to feel really cared-for when you don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
Since you don’t see the reports and presentations about different patients (identities hidden) and their diseases, it is hard for you to appreciate how much effort we put into your care. That’s understandable. I used to feel that way myself at times, before I went into medicine.
I just want you to know that the few minutes we spend in the room with you is not nearly the full extent of the time we put into your visit. Just once, I wish you could see me leave the exam room, present your case to my supervisor, and discuss multiple diagnoses and treatment plans. Much like the star athlete whose fans boo him on an off day, the doctor who took care of you during your last checkup or emergency room visit made many sacrifices to be there and take care of you. I have been training for so long that I can’t even remember taking classes for anything other than medicine. After four years of college, four years of medical school, hundreds of hours in the library, and multiple eight-hour-long examinations, I finally made it to residency (where I now spend even more of my day learning).
Our supervising doctors always remind us how we, as residents, are always learning and always need to continue to brush up on our knowledge and skills. Anyone can score a goal in the comfort of their own back yard, but have they put in the work as a professional? The same applies to medicine. Doctors dedicate most of their adult lives to the study of diseases and treatments, so that they can care for their patients.
In a world where everything is online, and privacy seems to be becoming a distant memory (much like black and white photos and playing outside), there is one thing that remains hidden from the general public: all of the work that physicians do behind the scenes for their patients. As much as I’m glad that there isn’t a camera to record us residents getting stressed-out behind the scenes during pre-rounds or a busy clinic day; it would at least show the patients that we do, indeed, care.