Are doctors professionals?

By | May 2, 2017

Current healthcare environment eroding physician professionalism

Physician burnout is a problem. The data supports the fact that physicians burn out at a high rate and are becoming less satisfied with their work every day. When medical students go into medicine, they feel they are serving a greater good, and joining a profession that is noble. On the consumer side, patients are looking for trusted partners in their care who are well-educated and caring. As both parties in this relationship define a professional situation, why has the practice of medicine become more commoditized?

One definition of “professional” is a group of people that work together to serve an important aspect of public interest or the general good of society. When I went into medicine, I truly believed I was filling this role. I took care of people to the best of my ability, and is that not generally good for society? Unfortunately, I missed one key point: I focused on the betterment of society by putting all my efforts in the individual, and not the society at large. To me this is the key distinction that has eroded the medical profession over time.

As a group, we have allowed ourselves to be commoditized, which is not necessarily bad, just not the same as being in a true profession. We have not provided solutions to healthcare issues at a societal level, and we have been extremely slow to adopt evidence-based practices and have not controlled cost, which are all desires of those we serve. Most physicians do not believe we have the ability to do so, but that view fuels the situation. In doing so, we have created an environment where we have given up our professionalism.

This industrialization and commodification of medicine has been occurring over the past 30 years. How physicians are paid and new physicians looking for more of a work/life balance are just two of many factors. Other factors include the new “demand” placed on us by the consumers of our services and the ever-increasing concern over delivering value to those we serve, which includes increasing quality and service while decreasing costs.

Can we bridge this divide and optimize our solutions? Absolutely. First, we must see the situation for what it is, acknowledge the driving forces, and not lay blame. We then need to work together with all the stakeholders, including our patients, to solve the true issues at hand. If physicians take the lead by focusing on what is good for those we serve, we can bring professionalism back into our day-to-day work. Although the externalities are driving us in one direction, how we respond will be the ultimate driver of change. We need to shift our focus to creating solutions of what are the overall “needs” of those we serve away from what are the “services” we provide. We can garner great joy and success in helping those we serve in many ways we have not even imagined. The joy of medicine can return, but only if we bring it back.