Tuesday, August 07, 2007
One More Time
When I was "interviewed" for a website recently, one of the questions was if another blogger and I had stopped feuding. Not that I know of, was what I said. I'm not sure if there's been a feud, for one thing. For another, I feel teensy bad that many moons ago I did make some (possibly inappropriately) snide comments about his chosen field. The reason I bring it up now is that there've been a lot of articles lately that suggest that lots of people have no idea what it really means to be a doctor. Crazy stuff, some of it.
In the formative days of this blog, I wrote once about shortcomings I saw in family practice docs coming right out of training. (I find many of my older posts embarrassingly bad, so I'm not even going to look for and quote myself.) What I hope I said was along these lines: worse than a doctor who doesn't know stuff is a doctor who doesn't know s/he doesn't know stuff. Compared to specialty training -- in which it seems half the time is spent reminding (putting it nicely) trainees how little they know -- it was my impression that (at least at one time) the opposite seemed true of family practice. I probably didn't acknowledge that it's nearly an impossible task: teaching people a smattering of everything -- enough to know both what they're doing and to recognize when they don't. Still, the FPs I worked with who were freshly minted knew much less than they thought they did about the topics with which we dealt in common: breast lumps, breast cancer. Gallbladder problems, hernias, hemorrhoids. Colon things. Various stuff. (I put on some seminars, which helped.) And yet they happily (because, I assume, they weren't taught any differently) took on issues with no sense of discomfort or of a need for input. It may be intangible: but a doctor simply MUST know his/her limits. The shorter the training, the less intense (maybe, even, the kinder and gentler), the more poorly is that goal met. Now, in all specialties, that appears to be exactly where we're headed.
I think I also said -- and if I didn't, I should have -- that the FPs I knew who'd been around awhile were excellent docs. It just seemed to take a while to assimilate the sense of limits (not to mention to broaden the limits outward); and I think that's not as true of most specialty-trained docs. Acknowledging once more that many doctors share much in common with human beings, it's true that within any subset there are exceptions to the left, and to the right.
So why am I picking this scab again? Because of my recent post in response to an article in the NYT decrying doctors' incomes, and the comments thereon, as well as several related posts and comments in the recent medical blogosphere. Still more: I got an email from an excellent young medblogger asking my opinion about a post by some sort of health/fitness blogger in which he claimed that it should take way less time to train doctors; that you ought to be able to learn surgery in a couple of years. Procedures, he said, are often taught nowadays by reps from instrument companies, so how hard can it be?
Related is the concept bandied about by commenters here and elsewhere that all our health care money problems will be solved simply by cutting what doctors are paid and by cranking out way more docs. Perhaps the best of all was the prediction that any gaps in physician availability would be happily made up by women who want to be part-time docs and moms.
Still another connected issue is the on-going discussion among other bloggers regarding the 80-hour work week, and how us old farts who trained in the days of much longer hours simply haven't a clue about how clueless we are. These generally include tirades at how particularly egregious is surgical training and the arrogance of those within -- more the teachers than the teachees. But them, too.
And finally, my blog and those of others are rife with comments by people who've been treated egregiously by doctors. Truly. Egregiously. I'm embarrassed just to read some of the stuff; particularly as it reveals complete lack of communication skills, compassion, and empathy on the part of those doctors.
OK. I probably have neither the will nor the skill to do justice to bringing together all of these themes. Except to say this: there seems to be a very schizophrenic attitude about physicians. People want more knowledgeable doctors, ones that will listen better and explain more clearly. Docs that will fully enumerate and carefully explain all the issues and choices for any situation; who will be sensitive to their individual needs, who will both guide them but let them make all their own decisions. And, of course, doctors with comprehensively flawless knowledge and impeccably perfect skills. People criticize doctors -- surgeons especially -- for having a god-complex, but they want god-like perfection. To achieve it, they suggest flooding the market with doctors and spending less time training them. And, of course, after people flock to become these perfect doctors, to pay them less and less for their efforts. Highly qualified, well-motivated folks with altruism aplenty will fight their way to the front of the line.
Talked to the tooth fairy lately?