Physicians in Ontario have had a difficult week – more cuts from the government they’d like to be able to work with, and division among themselves. A number of doctors have been through difficult times before and know that, in the end, this will pass. The government will realize that it cannot run a health system with dissatisfied doctors any more than it can run a healthcare system without doctors. They will begin to speak with the Ontario Medical Association again, looking for help with their situation. This will happen either because they are forced to by public opinion or by measures taken by the Ontario Medical Association.

As much as I am personally involved in working to get the government back to the negotiating table by any means possible, I am also still personally involved in getting children and youth back to school. These are not my children, in the strictest sense of the word, but their success is still very important to me for it is a measure of my success as a clinician.

The hardest thing about being a physician for adolescents and young adults is that you must let them find their own best way to do things. You must let them do this even when you know it is not going well. At the same time, you must be absolutely, completely ready for when they need you. This past few weeks at work, I have been in the happy position of knowing that twenty-one of the young people I have cared for are ready to begin university. Some are going to be away from home. They have been thrilled about this all summer. They are now terrified. They are worried they will fail.

I say: Fail? What was your average last year?

They say: Dr. Beck, that’s not fair. You know how hard that was.

I say: I do, but still, that’s not likely.

They say: The other students will be smarter than me.

I say: Not many of them. You remember, you did those tests…

They say: I’ll miss my family.

I say: Of course you will, but you can call, skype visit and, if those don’t work, you can visit. There will be       nothing like 4 days at home to remind you of why you felt it was best to go away to school. Oh, since we’re talking about probabilities, you could do amazingly well and have the best time of your life.

This time of the year is one of the busiest and best times of my practice. After a week of this kind of work I am always optimistic about the world with these young people heading off, ready to build a future that my grandchildren will live in.

Three of my patients are going to medical school. They will all be good doctors. They have all had a serious illness that could have derailed their lives. They will always understand what it feels like to be so sick that you can’t be sure you’ll get better. One of them asks this question.

They ask: Dr. Beck, it doesn’t seem like a good time to be a doctor.

I say: It’s always a good time to be a doctor.

Then I tell them about my August and September with my patients. I tell them about my conversations with their family doctor or their pediatrician, who have known them since they were babies and who are so excited that they are doing well. I tell them that my conversations with them, and with their doctors, make all the difference to my job as a doctor. My life is affected by cuts but it is not driven by them or the disrespect they symbolize. The opinions that matter are not those from Queen’s Park or a Minister’s office. For every doctor, the opinions about their work that matter are those of patients and the colleagues they work with to keep patients well.

Perhaps that’s why Dr. Hoskins can work to undermine the work of a healthcare system that doctors in Ontario build every day in their offices. He doesn’t do that work, doesn’t have to look patients and their families in the eye every day or talk to other doctors about his consultations. The community that doctors and patients build every day was here long before Dr. Hoskins started and will continue to be here long after he’s finished.

5 thoughts on “A Good Time to be a Doctor?

  1. I love that you still believe that it is a good time to be a doctor. Despite all of the beleagurement being talked about by the profession, we should always reflect on the joy to be found in practicing medicine. Staying true to the main reason we chose to become doctors ourselves and reflecting this to our patients and younger colleagues is one of our most important tasks we have when we are feeling pressured. It is a unique privilege to be intimately involved in peoples’ lives and in the humanity that surrounds us. We are very very lucky.
    Conversations about funding and income are important, but we must struggle to not let the pessimism felt by having them rob of of our joy!

  2. Thank you for your piece Dr. Beck! I cannot help but wonder if the way in which we are all more disconnected from each other as a society is contributing to the current problem. Despite the illusion that we are more connected, there is good evidence from researchers such as Twenge and others, that we are more disconnected in modern society, which less empathy towards each other, and more narcissism. I cannot help but wonder if this contributes to the government’s total lack of empathy or understanding of the challenges faced by physicians. If this is what is happening, then one possible solution would be using “connection before direction” with the government. We would need to connect and validate their concerns, and then offer our perspective on how their actions are not going to achieve the ends they wish, and how doctors have other, better strategies to accomplish the outcome…

  3. Patricia Swick says:

    Excellent piece. So true about the disconnect between the day to day work we do with our patients and the Ministry of Health’s distance from that process.

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