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I’ll be happy when…

It’s such a common human experience.

To feel like happiness is out there somewhere.

Not now.

Just, you know, after you finish med school. 

Or wait, I mean residency.

No, when I get married. 

No, once I have a baby.

Well, I meant once my family is complete.

I mean, once my kids are all in school.  That’s when it’ll get easier.

Actually, once they are all out of elementary school.

Really, once they are driving themselves, that’ll be so much easier.

Okay, when they leave the house.  That’s when it’ll really be peaceful around here.

Now, it’s so quiet without them.

When the grandchildren come, that’s when there will be joy back in this house.

You know what, way back when,  those were the good old days.

What if…

Instead of believing you’ll be happy when _______

You choose to believe you can be happy now?

As one day…

These really will be….

The good old days.

So you might as well enjoy them while they are here.

The most valuable resource in health care

What is the most valuable resource in health care? In clinics, in same day surgery centers, in hospitals, in any health care system?

Is it the brand new MRI or PET scanner?  The DaVinci robot?  The dialysis center?  The Intensive Care Unit?

The answer is very clear.

Yet nearly always overlooked and underappreciated.

The people. 

You. 

The physicians.

Without physicians, the system comes to a screeching halt.

We are not hamsters in a wheel to generate RVUs.

We are human beings, uniquely trained, and capable of connecting with other human beings in their most difficult times, called upon to do whatever it takes to care for people in their times of need. 

We have capabilities that were almost unimaginable to physicians a generation or two ago.

We can take the heart or lungs out of one human being and put them into another. 

We can cure previously incurable pediatric cancers.

But tell me, if it’s your chest that is being opened, or if it’s your child’s health at stake, wouldn’t you like your physician to be well rested?  To be focused and present?  To take as much time as they needed? 

We must care for our physicians so that they can show up as their best selves for every patient who needs them.

If physicians had to wear a badge that said how many hours they had been on duty, would you allow a physician in their 24th hour to operate on you?  I don’t think so.  Me either. 

So…let’s start to treat our most valuable resource like the most valuable resource. 

Listen to your patient, he is telling you his diagnosis – Sir William Osler

Most of us have learned that if we can just be quiet and listen, to listen to what our patients are truly saying, they will tell you the diagnosis.

We know that most diagnoses can be made on history alone.

Urinary urgency and frequency, most likely UTI.

Do you know what I hear when I listen to medical students, residents, and physicians these days?

I hear despair. I hear burnout. I hear depression. I hear anxiety. I hear overwhelm. I hear desperation. I hear they want out. I hear this is unsustainable.

Listen to our people.

They are telling us the diagnosis.

So, the question is…

Now that we have the assessment, what is the plan?

Who makes the plan?

We do.

The physicians.

Assessment -> Plan.

Think of something, anything that you can do, where you are, in your personal or professional life, in your health care system. Something has got to change. So let’s come together and make a plan.

Hippocrates and Elizabeth Blackwell History

Hippocrates lived approximately 2400 years ago.

There were no women physicians in the United States until only 170 years ago.

You likely know that Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive her MD in the United States.  This was in the year 1849.

Elizabeth Blackwell was inspired to pursue medicine after a friend of hers said her ordeal would have been better had she had a woman physician. 

She applied to medical school, but was denied.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

She applied again, and was again rejected by ALL the medical schools she applied to.

On her third attempt, she was admitted.  The all male student body was allowed to vote whether she could be granted admission or not.  It it believed it would be somewhat of a practical joke.  However, Elizabeth Blackwell MD graduated at the very top of her class.

She went on to open a medical school for women and became a champion of women in medicine.  

When reflecting on her journey, she stated, “It is not easy to be a pioneer, but ohhhhhh it is fascinating.  I would trade not one moment, not even the worst moment for all the riches in the world.”

We are all a part of this history and legacy.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

We are Elizabeth Blackwell’s wildest dreams.

Her birthday, February 3, is now a national holiday where we celebrate National Women Physician’s Day.

We may not realize it, but we actually are the shoulders upon which the next generation will stand.

This makes me even more mindful of where we have been, how we got to where we are today, and where we’d like to be.

Those who come after us will be significantly impacted by the choices our generation makes in medicine.

If we are not ready, willing, or able to make changes for ourselves, we often will make changes for others. 

We have the opportunity to leave medicine a little better than we found it.  For women physicians and for all physicians.

Personal Statement

What was your personal statement?

Do you remember?

Think back to before you were admitted to medical school. 

Remember how much you wanted this?

Remember all the hard work, all the studying, the extracurricular activities, maybe research, perhaps volunteerism.

Then you had to write and re-write and re-write your personal statement. 

The perfectly crafted representation of over 20 years of your life that would resonate with admissions deans and convince them that you were intelligent, humanistic, well-rounded, and confident yet humble, perfectly suited for a career in medicine.

In a way that would make you stand out and above thousands of other applicants.

What did you write about?

I read a lot of these.

I’ll tell you, theirs are a lot of common themes. 

They read a lot like the values reflected in the Hippocratic Oath including service to others, humanism, desire to relieve suffering.  There is often an overcoming of a challenge, a meaningful life experience or patient experience, and a resolution with a concluding sentence.

Do you have any idea what was in yours? Are you the doctor you wanted to be?  Is a career in medicine what you envisioned and dreamed about?  Is there anything you can do to get a step closer to embodying those values today?

My duty and my patient

I will not permit consideration of race, gender, religion, nationality, ideology,

or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient.

Now this is one that clearly resonates deeply with me.

This was written in a very different time, well before there were insurance companies, health maintenance organizations, or RVUs.

However, it specifically addresses not allowing social standing to intervene between the physician and the patient. As a physician who has spent nearly her whole career providing care to those who are marginalized by society and unable to access health care through any of the traditional safety net, I regularly hear stories from real patients whose social standing prevents them from receiving care.

I am incredibly proud and humbled to have found a setting in which I do not have to allow social standing or funding status to intervene between my duty and my patient.

My Deserving Teachers

We all have memorable teachers and mentors from medical school and residency.  They have made us who we are today. 

One of my faculty members seemed to be half stand-up comedian.  I wasn’t assigned to his small group session for pathology, but I crashed it.  Because he was funny.  He cared.  He got to know his students, their names, where they were from, and something memorable about them. 

He called me “Sunny, from Sunny Santa Barbara” as I went received my undergraduate degree at the University of California Santa Barbara. 

He laughed and made us laugh.

He also told us over and over and over that “repetition is the branding iron of knowledge.”  I tell this to my students all the time.

He taught me that it’s okay to be yourself, and whatever your personality is, you can bring that to medicine and be who you are.  You don’t have to conform. 

He won the teaching award so many times that they had to retire him from the award.

Only two other people had been retired from the teaching award and each had done it in completely their own unique way. 

One was quite obsessive with details, one seemed like a walking encyclopedia, and then of course there was the comedian.  The lesson for me here was that you can be an outstanding teacher, faculty member, and human being in your very own unique way by being genuinely, authentically, uniquely you.

I will give respect and gratitude to my deserving teachers.

Hehe.  Now you know I’m a little biased on this one, as I’m a teacher. 

But honestly, my teachers had a profound influence on me. 

I showed up at medical school only knowing that I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to help people.  I didn’t have a very clear concept of what that would look like.  I didn’t know any doctors or have any role models.  I just knew that I had a family member who had been to the doctor a lot when I was growing up.  We were always waiting on what the doctor would say or do or recommend and the physician and surgeons actions impacted our lives significantly.  All I knew was that I wanted to help.

When I showed up at medical school, I happened to go to a school that was just starting a Student-run Free Clinic out of the basement of a church.  Little did I know this would change the course of my life forever. 

My teacher, my mentor, my faculty member worked with the university to get approval for us to legally provide care to homeless patients in the basement of a church. 

We set up a curtain to divide the laundry room.  Half of the room was for administration and half was for patient care.  We treated hypertension and simple infections.  We had very little.  But we cared.  That made all the difference.  We listened.  We sat and listened to individuals affected by homelessness. Our patients rarely had the opportunity to speak and be heard, to be treated with dignity and respect.  We forged friendships.  Our “transients” it turned out were not all that transient and would return week after week, month after month, and year after year.

My mentor taught me to think outside the box.  She taught me to listen and to treat all people with respect.   She taught me that underserved medicine is not poverty medicine and that all people are entitled to the same quality of care, despite their ability to pay.  She showed me that where there is a will there is a way.

One hundred percent I am who I am today because of her.  I became a physician in the basement of that church.  I later became a faculty member, course director, and eventually a full professor in the basement of the same church, in the same toddler chairs.

She is just one of many who made me who I am today. 

(The next blog post will include what I learned from some other influential teachers on my journey)

Hippocratic Oath Explanation

Now that you’ve read the full Hippocratic Oath in the last post, let’s take a look at some of the lines in particular.

Note that it opens with

“Now being admitted to the profession of medicine,

I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life in the service of humanity.”

Service.

We are here to serve. 

To serve humanity.

What does this mean to me?

We are here to care for other human beings. 

To relieve suffering. 

To cure often to comfort always. 

In the best of times of their lives and the absolute worst, most painful, or scariest times of their lives.

We bear witness to the entire breadth of the human experience from the moments of birth through the moments of death.

We are uniquely trained, uniquely qualified, uniquely experienced, uniquely able to provide this service to the humankind. 

This a profound and deeply meaningful position in society.

We must not take it lightly.

We start to take it for granted, because it is our everyday life. However, we must periodically step back, to remind ourselves, that no matter how painful it has been at times, it is and has been an honor to be a part of this noble profession of medicine

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life and its quality

Well hello there!

Oh my goodness –  I am so excited that you are here reading this blog post!

That means you are likely a woman physician, which means you are an incredible human being.  Period.  (This is not up for debate)

Thank you for being you.  Thank you for all you do.  You are hard-working, intelligent, and have dedicated much of your life to serving others. 

If you’ve found your way to my website, chances are you also are interested in finding ways to be more empowered in both your personal and professional life. 

These blog posts will highlight some of the most important take home points from the Empowering Women Physicians podcast.   

As some of us are auditory learners, some are visual, and all of us could use little reminders to take better care of ourselves every once in a while.

If you’ve listened to my podcast, starting with Episode 1, you likely remember me getting a little teary talking about the moment a beloved medical student brought me a gift that was a picture of me with my little boy, taken from behind, as we look out at the ocean at sunset.  She had the phrase “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life and its quality” written on the frame.  As often is the case, our students can be our biggest teachers. It came at a time where I really needed to hear that.  I don’t think she could have ever imagined what a big impression her gift and that phrase would have on me. 

It became a moment where being a person, a mother, a wife, and choosing to care for myself and my family finally didn’t seem at odds with my identify as a physician.  As I am human too.  My student so wisely identified that in those rare moments that I pause, to purposefully make space to care for myself and enjoy this life, I am following the words of Hippocrates in caring for my own human life and its quality.  As physicians, we must be reminded to do so.

I’ll encourage you to refer back to this page and to this Oath over and over again. 

It reminds us that despite all the annoyances and intolerable administrative burdens, we are still a part of the most noble profession.  A long line of healers.  What was written by Hippocrates, the Founder of Modern Medicine, over 2000 years ago, is equally as relevant today.

Hippocratic Oath

Now being admitted to the profession of medicine,

I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life in the service of humanity.

I will give respect and gratitude to my deserving teachers.

I will practice medicine with conscience and dignity.

The health and life of my patient will be my first consideration.

I will hold in confidence all that my patient confides in me.

I will maintain the honor and noble tradition of the medical profession.

I will not permit consideration of race, gender, religion, nationality, ideology,

or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient.

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life and its quality.

Even under threat, I will not use my knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.

These promises I make freely and upon my honor.