Ask the doc: Do doctors still enjoy the profession?

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 11:04 PM

Q: Do the physicians you know still enjoy being in medicine with all of the changes that are occurring?

A: That is a tough question to answer, because physicians are trained to analyze a situation and focus on what is wrong in order to remedy it. It seems as if our current medical climate breeds negativity from the television commentators to the physician lounge.

Recent surveys also note that the majority of physicians no longer encourage their children to become physicians out of their own frustration. That is truly sad, because families that seem to grow generations of physicians seemingly have more brilliant physicians with each generation.

One of the beautiful things about this profession, though, will never be taken away by laws, computers, prior authorizations, co-pays, financial goals, meaningful use guidelines and government oversight: the relationships with fellow physicians and patients.

I have known some brilliant physicians in my years of training and private practice and learned from them things that cannot be written in books or programmed into a computer. Mostly it is the bulldoggedness to try to figure out what is going on with a patient, keeping up with the latest in medicine, and the perspective that healed doesn’t mean cured, and cured doesn’t mean healed.

I’ve also learned that the best physicians recognize their own personal weaknesses and demons and find a way to to overcome themselves in order to serve their patients. It is a sort of peace that we all live and die, we should make every effort to try to live healthier. But, again, we all live and die.

I remember the older, gray-haired, retired physician in Memphis who thought it would be fun to go back to medical school after retiring from 40 years of medicine to “see what they are teaching.” He hung in there but had the same appearance of a weather reporter standing out in a hurricane. The massive amount of information taught was the thing that overwhelmed him. And the absence of the teaching of the art of medicine is what saddened him. His report to the Dean changed the curriculum in the medical school for the better.

Another older attending physician in Memphis clearly stands out. After his group of green medical students visited 30 patients in the nursing home, read the foot thick charts, and presented the patients (whom he knew like the back of his hand), one turned to him and asked, “why are they all worried about their bowels?” His response was a lesson I’ve never forgotten. “Lads,” he said, “when you are young you worry about sex and when you are old you worry about bowels. Middle age is when you worry about both.”

The older physicians I have learned from have taught me a lot and those relationships I have cherished and will never forget.

Dr. Randy Robinson was one of my attendings in residency who had been a 24/7, baby delivering, treat-it-all doc in the mountains of North Carolina prior to his roll as a teacher of snotty-nose overconfident residents. He could cut the cockiness out of a resident or medical student with one question sending them on an hours journey of reading to learn.

One afternoon he helped me shovel dirt at my house, pitched our resident softball game later that night and hammered me on an EKG the next morning at morning report. I never wanted to be unprepared when presenting a patient to him. I vividly remember the ones where I wasn’t.

Dr. Joel Todino was another who could with grace and a smile lead a struggling nervous medical student through the basics of patient presentation which is the backbone of all physician communication. He had seen it all, read the first EKG ever printed in Rome, Ga., and had a collection of classic music that would rival the Smithsonian. He could reason through a jungle of medical facts and enjoy Beethoven that night while eating a salad grown in his garden. He was not only a Renaissance man, he taught it.

The late Dr. Ed Wear of Sevierville will always be one of my favorites. I had to be informally interviewed by him to be approved to move to Sevierville, and that is where my learning started from him. I could never stump him. If I had a puzzling medical case, a quick phone call to Dr. Wear, two minutes on the phone, and a quick change of plan or specialist seemingly resolved my problem.

But he taught me more than medical facts. I learned from him that everyone, physicians included, have personal obstacles, and even demons, we battle everyday and that is as real a condition as blood pressure. Sometimes we can make a difference, and sometimes we can’t. He taught me to keep learning both the science and the art of medicine, and how to make things uncomfortable for the pencil pushers of medicine when necessary. I still miss him.

There are several other physicians in this region whom I still trust and enjoy learning from — both medicine and life. Along with the lessons I’ve learned from thousands of patients, the wisdom of fellow physicians makes this a rewarding career. Even with the red-tape.

I do not encourage young adults to go into medicine. I don’t discourage it, either. That’s a very personal choice that should come from the core of a person’s being. Nevertheless, the relationships with patients and discussions with my fellow physicians on subjects that only physicians share about life, death, and our personal lives, still make it a wonderful profession.

Eric J. Littleton, M.D. is a Family Physician in Sevierville. His new office is located at 958 Dolly Parton Parkway. Topics covered are general in nature and should not be used to change medical treatments and/or plans without first discussing with your physician. Send questions to askdrlittleton@gmail.com.