Life lessons I've learned from doctors

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, I love talking to doctors. When I started my career as an unwitting healthcare journalist 10 years ago (it started out as a way to pay the rent while I aspired to become the next great American poet), I spent too much time being intimidated by the "M.D.s" at the end of people's names to truly appreciate what they had to share with me, regular person to regular person.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the pieces of wisdom I've had the privilege to receive and share with others:

Politics are sometimes personal

The physicians I speak with don't always reveal personal reasons why they are on one side versus another of an issue. They tend to stick to the facts and practical reasons behind a belief. But when I spoke with Eric Ruby, M.D. (pictured left), a Massachusetts pediatrician, about new regulations legalizing medical marijuana in my home state, he spoke as a scientist as well as a father. He opened the conversation by talking about his son, Ethan, who became a paraplegic after being struck by a car in a crosswalk.

Some time after Ethan discovered with a friend that smoking marijuana was the one course that improved his quality of life in overcoming severe central neuropathic pain, he moved to Oregon where he could use the treatment legally.

"So when this [regulation] came to Massachusetts, I said, 'Wow, I can get my son and my grandchildren back,'" Ruby said. "So I'm very much a proponent of it. When people ask why I'm so passionate about it, I say, 'My son is 2,000 miles away; I'm passionate about it.' It's very personal."

For me, this reinforces my belief that it's perfectly okay for our work lives and our personal lives to intersect. Having a heartfelt passion for an issue doesn't necessarily make any of us blind to the facts, but it motivates us to learn all we can and participate in the discussion.

Healers need healing, too

We talk about physician wellness frequently here at FiercePracticeManagement, but anecdotally I can tell you that many, many doctors don't think the advice applies to them. Using the parenting analogy yet again, I can relate to physicians' tendency to take care of everyone else before themselves. Too often, we caregivers and household (or practice) leaders dine on cold dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets after everyone else is fed, bathed, comforted and the dishes are done and the bills are paid, so to speak.

On a day-to-day basis, this is a mindset we should all strive to correct. But a recent conversation I had with James Broadhurst, M.D. (pictured right), a family physician who found himself in the midst of disaster while volunteering in the medical tent at this year's Boston Marathon when two bomb explosions caused three deaths and hundreds of devastating injuries, amplified the point for us both.

"Everyone who was there was a victim of that disaster. And as a physician, I am no more immune to that than anybody else," he said.

As Broadhurst stated in a YouTube video created for the University of Massachusetts Medical School, this fact wasn't something he recognized at first, but only over time once resources were offered to help volunteer providers process their experience.

The bottom line, when dealing with everyday demands or a life-changing incident, is that it's not just okay to ask for help when you need it. To be an effective caregiver, it's a responsibility.

Everyone I talked to about coping with the marathon bombing aftermath said that talking about it with colleagues was among the most helpful ways they could deal with their feelings in a healthy way. A recent conversation I had with Dike Drummond, M.D., an expert in physician burnout and post-traumatic stress, provided similar advice.

In both of these cases, maybe these doctors' words were more validating of issues I already believed than presenting anything new. But they are nonetheless pieces of wisdom I'll take with me as I go about my professional and personal life going forward. I hope they benefit you too. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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