Take a Break, Doctor!

“Are you going to Switzerland, Doctor?” asked this business-class patient with a pregnant smile upon his face.
When I told him I was on leave the next week, he thought what most patients naturally think about doctors: “Every doctor gets free luxury trips to coveted destinations sponsored by pharma industry”.
I did not explain to him that my mother had a surgery planned.
Everybody needs a leave, a break, a vacation. Sometimes for problems, illnesses etc. in family. Sometimes a cut off from the routine and mundane. Sometimes to find oneself, sometimes to lose oneself. Sometimes to run away from it all, sometimes to meet life.
A doctor cannot. Wonder why?
There are scheduled follow-ups, complicated cases, people on dangerous prescriptions, admitted patients all the year round, from which one cannot detach completely. Even when on leave, a doctor in-charge who cares about patients prefers to be somehow reachable, albeit via assistant or hospital or email.

Imagine watching a beautiful sunset or being in the arms of your beloved at the dawn, and receiving calls about critical cases, complications or prescription renewals. The moment and the life in it dies instantly.

Many specialists in fact get maximum patient communication via email, whatsapp, sms or calls on Saturdays and Sundays, thinking that the doctor will be free. The doctor, catching up with the missed life among family and children gets worst irritable on the weekends. His cellphone, kept ‘ON’ for the admitted critical cases becomes a mass communication device on weekends.

When a teacher visited recently, he asked what only a parent will ask: “Do you find time for yourself?”.
When one becomes a doctor, they almost always (rare exceptions) sacrifice any other talent they may have, like singing, music, writing, sports, research etc. Seeking solace only in patient happiness (in most cases) or financial success or fame (in some), a doctor then becomes a “Medical Practice Machine” for his / her own happiness. This is the death of the non-doctor individual in a doctor.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Hence the thought: Take a break, doctor.
Many students ask in curiosity to their favorite teachers: What would you have preferred to become if not a doctor / a neurologist etc. (Formula 1 Racer, Singer, Running an infant daycare, Connoisseur of love and peace, Professor of poetry, Philosopher, Vagabond, Scientist, Monk… so many things I wanted to be have stayed within, the smoke sometimes sizzles at midnight.)

In any field when you achieve excellence, it is always at the cost of many sacrifices, especially your chances and wish of doing well in other fields. But about the doctor, the concept has a caveat: that it is no more as rewarding as it was few years ago. A patient becoming a customer has hurt both ends, and this appears irreversible. Now that this is a professional activity, successful recovery is just “buying the treatment” for most. Thankfulness sinks in the bills. So even in a great recovery, good treatment, survival and cure of a patient, the doctor is “just doing his / her job, and my insurance is paying for it” is the usual attitude.
Only the few doctors who “enjoy” the process of clinical evaluation, correct diagnosis and good treatment response or surgery can find hidden solace in this process, also passing it on to newer generations. Others run frustrated from degree to degree, hospital to hospital, or patient after patient. Add conference after conference for some. For the nonclinical and paraclinical specialties, it has become a humiliating task to apply to the business oriented set-ups and keep shifting base in search of career.

Of all the professionals, doctors are the only ones who can never get “meaningful” vacations. Even the tiny time they are on leave is polluted by interference. This practice is more so in India, where individual practice culture and “salary-less” pay structures in most big hospitals precludes the possibility of “handing over the charge” to another doctor while one can enjoy a break. This is more so as one climbs higher in a specialty, as equivalent skills become rarer. A doctor on leave anywhere in the world MUST make arrangement for someone else to attend patients in his / her absence. Why only a doctor? With millions of court cases pending, why not everyone in the judiciary? Why not everyone in all departments in the police and government, where “Sahab is on leave, come back after few weeks” is the standard answer? Why doesn’t every other department dealing with public tasks work 24 / 7 as responsibly too?

And the irony of all this is that most of the society thinks it is for “earning more via illegal means” that every doctor is busy!

There are many hidden assets within every person. Doctors should not “cage” themselves in medical practice. They must learn also to “switch off” being a doctor for atleast a few weeks every year and be a “Normal Human Being” who can stop thinking of death and disease 24/7. They should breathe in the fresh air of being oneself, work upon their own good health, family’s expectations and inner desires to “catch on with life one day”.

The scariest fact: that as general life expectancy is increasing, the life expectancy, stress morbidity and mortality among medical professionals is on a decline. Starting from 12th standard where medical entrance has a “killing” competition, the highest levels of stress in a doctor’s life NEVER go down.

Sacrificing life is not worth it, Doctor. One can definitely be a better doctor with lesser stress.

Catch Up! Take a break!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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