By Julia Cinquegrani ’16, Campus Life Editor
Doctors often feel overworked, overburdened by paperwork and a crazy schedule, which interferes with family life. These are just a few explanations a doctor might attribute to his or her disillusionment with the profession.
Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, associate professor at New York University Langone Medical Center and Editor-in-Chief of Bellevue Literary Review, spoke at this week’s Common Hour presentation entitled “Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Doctor?”Ofri said disillusionment with the medical profession has been on the rise over the past decade. Yet, there is still one reward she believes continues to outweigh the drawbacks: personal care and patient interaction.
Ofri began by describing recently released studies outlining the frustration and burnout many doctors and nurses report feeling toward the medical profession. In extreme cases, continual frustration can cause substance abuse or depression in doctors.
“Medicine has the highest suicide rate of any profession in the country,” Ofri said. “On average, every day, one doctor in America kills himself. But, for the majority of doctors, medicine can lead to a continual, low-level dissatisfaction. It’s kind of like the shoe that pinches or that dull toothache.”
She attributed some of the cause of doctors’ disillusionment to patients’ increasingly complicated medical histories, the ex- treme activity of many medical practices, and complicated insurance policies that require enormous amounts of paperwork.
According to Ofri, part of doctors’ frustration also stems from the time pressures inherent in the medical profession; these jobs have a tendency to interfere with other areas of life. As a physician at Bellevue Hospital, Ofri sometimes feels this frustration personally.
“Some of the absolute worst moments for me [as a doctor] have occurred at the nexus of work life and family life,” Ofri said. “They often take place at the precise moment when I am leaving the hospital to pick up my children. Every extra minute I spent with my patients directly subtracted from the time I could spend with my children.”
During the days she spends working at Bellevue, Ofri described feeling trapped among many different patients and problems, all while knowing the situations are ultimately out of her control.
“The fundamental issue is that our medical system often places doctors in impossible situations and thinks nothing of it,” Ofri said. “We somehow think nothing of expecting doctors to be in two places at the same time or doing two different things at the same time. And this system survives without much consideration for the effect it has on doctors or patients.”
In addition to the stress many doctors face while working, patients and illnesses do not constrain themselves to traditional work hours; night and weekend work is common for doctors. Furthermore, as society ages, illnesses become much more complex, and medical care is expanding more into doctors’ personal lives.
“At some point working spills over and expands to the point that your family is affected, your personal life, sleep, sanity — all of these things are hurt,” Ofri said.
While making her daily rounds to visit her patients at Bellevue, Ofri is scheduled to spend 15 minutes with each patient. She said this is rarely enough time to do a thorough check-up on each person, which often leaves her scrambling to remain on schedule. Insurance forms and paperwork are also extremely complicated and time-consuming.
“We spend 10 times as many hours on paperwork as our Canadian counterparts,” Ofri said. “So the paperwork ends up eating into time we should spend with our patients, and at some time we’re go- ing to start making mistakes.”
Ofri also argued that institutional forces cause much of the overloading doctors see in their schedules.
“I think about some of this as an issue of respect and how the medical profession views doctors,” Ofri said. “The ideas that a doctor could take care of 40 patients is not only ludicrous medically, but when you think of it, it is disrespectful — doctors become just a name that is put on every patient’s chart.”
Ofri believes that institutional disrespect adds to the disillusionment many doctors feel. Doctors and nurses can begin feeling like cogs in an enormous system rather than as individual professionals, leading many doctors to feel run down over time.
Unfortunately, Ofri believes disillusionment has become more prevalent in the last decade. This also often leads to worse patient care; when doctors and nurses are upset or frustrated it is harder for them to concentrate on each patient and makes them more likely to commit medical errors.
“The patient is the ultimate loser when doctors and nurses are disillusioned and frustrated,” Ofri said.
Ofri said medical work can feel repetitive after many years in the field and repeatedly treating the same illnesses. To improve these circumstances, Ofri suggested more doctors concentrate on continual learning and self improvement to prevent themselves from feeling burned out from the repetition of their daily routines. She also recommended doctors try to work as a more integrated team with other doctors and nurses to help ease individual pressures.
But despite the pressures medical professionals confront, Ofri ended her discussion on a happier note, saying that, overall, doctors see the benefits of their jobs as outweighing the drawbacks.
“Nothing in this world comes even close to the experience of making another human being feel better,” Ofri said. “Being able to help children get vaccinations, curing infections, which two generations ago would have been fatal, or helping a patient’s bone fracture to heal so they can walk again — these things never grow old.”
After Ofri ended her main talk, questions asked by audience members ranged from the ways in which the Affordable Care Act is affecting doctors’ experience in medicine to the U.S.’s growing shortage of doctors.
Ofri emphasized that doctors’ frustration can interfere with the emotional care they must provide patients, but it is this personal care that Ofri and other doctors often find to be the most rewarding part of the job.
“Most of us love what we do and wouldn’t give it up for anything,” Ofri said. “When I close the room to the exam door at night in the hospital and it’s just the patients and me, it’s an experience that is incomparable. The power of human connection becomes palpable. I can’t always solve my patients’ is- sues, but the opportunity to try can- not be underestimated. If I had to do it all over again there is nothing else I would rather be doing than this.”
Sophomore Julia Cinquegrani is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.