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Old school? Let’s make collegiality among physicians a priority again

December 12th, 2017

The Association of American Medical Colleges has made a priority of improving the well-being of physicians and medical students as they deal with burnout and frustration, according to an article I read recently in the Wall Street Journal. I thought of this as I was putting together a presentation I was to deliver for a group of physicians on the subject of Transitions of Care.  On one of the slides, I inserted a photo of physicians and house staff gathered around a large table in the Physicians’ Dining Room; it was taken when I worked in a physician’s assistant-type role at Riverside Osteopathic Hospital (Trenton, Michigan) in the late 70’s. I don’t recall why I shot the photo, but it took me back to the days when physicians regularly gathered around tables to chat, exchange patient information and maybe even share a few laughs.

Collegial is the word that comes to mind. I know I use that word frequently, but it’s an important word. It’s a companion word to collaborative, another favorite of mine.  While I’m not a physician, I’ve been around them my entire career – and married to one for 45 years. I’ve seen dramatic changes in the profession, some positive, some not so much.

Of course, respect for physicians is still strong, as it should be. But when we look at newly minted docs, do we find ourselves wondering more about their debt load from medical school than their personal passion for embarking on a medical career?    We know that the Internet, apps and software have created a multitude of career paths that pay very well, early in the game – career options that didn’t exist for the medical students of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. Yet, in researching this blog, I found a 2017 press release from the Association of American Medical Colleges that medical school enrollment is up 28% since 2002. That’s a good thing, as an exodus of aging physicians is anticipated over the next ten years.

Still, I go back to collegiality. Is there simply not as much time for physicians to build collegial relationships? Is this contributing to the burnout that the profession is taking efforts to combat? I actually attribute some burnout in part to electronic health records. While I am a strong advocate of them, they can cause a great deal of frustration for various reasons. The first is almost comical. Many older physicians have terrible keyboarding skills; they have to hunt and peck to prepare patient notes, while in reality the effectiveness of electronic files depends on speed. The use of scribes is helpful, but physicians still have to review and correct notes and insert the proper diagnosis and procedure codes. So it mitigates the problem but doesn’t eliminate it. It still takes physicians away from time spent with patients…and colleagues.

So what’s the answer? There likely is no one answer, rather a variety of approaches that can work collectively to address the issue.  I would love to share some tips in a future blog on how we can facilitate collegiality among physician to positively impact career satisfaction, but also the patient experience and outcomes. Contact me @ematuszewski@mednetone.net.

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