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Breaking the stigma: Addressing the struggles of physicians

The state of health care in the U.S. is widely considered to be inadequate. I recently learned in an online class that family doctors in Canada only have 10 minutes per patient. I am unsure who sets or enforces this rule and it is unclear why anyone would choose such a job. As an introvert, I understand the toll of being present for others all day, but 10 minutes to simply examine, refill prescriptions, or order tests do not seem to be a sufficient standard for health care.

As a PCP, I understand that all medical specialties come with their own sources of stress. For instance, operating rooms, labor and delivery rooms, and the cognitive stress that PCPs face from dealing with patients with unique health beliefs or requests who may talk for hours on end about their negative experiences with others.

However, most doctors are able to handle these challenges correctly most of the time. Of course, there are also days when we may feel overwhelmed, impatient, and unable to connect with our patients.

So where do we go to cope with this stress? Historically, there has not been a designated outlet for it. In the 1960s, Life magazine published a story about the struggles of rural doctors who faced long hours and had limited resources to offer their patients.

It is well known that the medical profession has a high rate of suicide, affecting not only doctors, but also PAs, NPs, dentists, and others in the field.

Why do physicians not have a place to talk? During my years as a physician, I have encountered few colleagues who seem to need to talk. Some may have the ability to compartmentalize, others may be less sensitive, and still, others may be men who have a different approach to communication. There are gender stereotypes about communication styles, with women being perceived as more emotional and men as more stoic, but regardless, it seems that many physicians struggle with finding a place to discuss their feelings.

Many of us could benefit from a safe place to cry, vent, or find solutions to our problems. But where do doctors go for this kind of support?

I propose a listserv as a solution. If necessary, it would be easy to de-identify patients in discussions about specific incidents. But sometimes we need a place to process the everyday challenges of our job, such as the remarks of office managers, nonsensical rules like the one about artificial nails, or the single-use tape policy to prevent bacteria growth. Support, humor, and problem-solving are badly needed in our profession. Does anyone else agree?”

Jean Antonucci is a family physician and can be reached at her self-titled site, Jean Antonucci.

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