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A Love Letter To Doctors

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A Love Letter To Doctors

I have a confession to make. Four years ago, I was calling you the “Pod People,” because I felt so traumatized by the behavior of other doctors. When I quit practicing medicine around that time, I wanted to have nothing to do with doctors. I called myself a “recovering physician” and pretty much avoided doctors like the plague. I came to think of you as a bunch of arrogant, mean-spirited, grumpy, soulless people bent on keeping me in a box and clipping my wings.

But I have mellowed out. After two years of full-time writing and painting, I learned that you can quit your job, but you don’t quit your calling. I am now practicing medicine, but on my terms, in a way that feels completely authentic to who I am. The post-traumatic stress of my medical training is healing, and my heart is cracked wide open. Which puts me in a good place to write this love letter. So forgive me for calling you the “Pod People,” and know that I am on your side. Really.

Why I Love You

Now that I’m not so tired, I realize how much I truly love you. I love you for making the sacrifices you’ve made, for putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself, for dropping everything to come running when someone cries for help.  I love you for skipping keg parties to study for organic chemistry, for enduring sleepless nights and countless indignities in the name of learning, for tolerating angry teachers and stressed out colleagues. I love you for surviving law suits with your head held high, for not letting the insurance turkeys get your down, for dealing with complications that occurred on your watch and never forgetting that you did the best you could and that nobody is perfect.  Most of all, I love you for following your passion, for clinging to the authentic core of who you are deep within, for serving your life purpose and doing it with integrity and courage.

The Calling

I know that we all went to medical school for the right reasons.  We felt called to serve, usually from a very young age. After I quit my job, I convinced myself that going to medical school had been a mistake, that the only reason I did it was because Dad was a doctor, and I wasn’t brave enough to go to art school. But then I took a workshop with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, and she invited us to think back to the first time we realized that the life of another living thing mattered. It could be an animal, a person — a bug, even.

She asked us to raise our hands based on how old we were. Older than 25? 20-25?

15-20? 10-15? Less than 10? As you can imagine, almost everybody in the room raised their hands when she said “Less than 10,” myself included.

I was seven.  A chimney sweep was cleaning our chimney and found a nest of baby squirrels without a mother. I begged my parents to take me to the veterinarian so I could learn how to be the mommy these squirrels didn’t have. I learned to feed them dog’s milk with an eye dropper and wipe their little genitals so they would pee. I set my alarm to get up at night and feed them, and I carried them with me to school in a backpack. Over the next 15 years, I went on to raise about 20 squirrels. They called me the squirrel girl, and I loved those squirrels like a mother.

I cried when I realized this. Going to medical school had nothing to do with my father. It just gave me the tools to do what I had been doing since I was seven, tending the sick, wounded, and vulnerable.

Rachel says this trait is unique to us doctors. She says she tried doing this same thing in front of a group of law students, but when she asked them how old they were when they realized that the life of another living being mattered, nobody raised their hands — ever. Standing right next to her was the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, who leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Rachel, try justice.” And Rachel posed the question, “How old were you when you discovered that the world was unjust?” The lawyers had the same breakdown we did. They too were called young, but in a different way than we are.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

33 comments

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6:40PM PDT on Jun 30, 2010

Good article. I hated doctors when my mom was taken to hospital and wasn't attended to because they didn't have enough money for hospital deposit. This was in the Philippines and we really have a bad hospital system and we even believe that hospitals and doctors are only for the rich. Going back to my mom's case, my father was panicky. They came to hospital without much money because it was an emergency. They arrived in the afternoon and my mother was only admitted when I came after work because I got the money. With that experience, I hated some doctors in the Philippines and all hospital employees. My mother passed away in 1994 but that incident in the hospital is still pissing me off.

10:05AM PDT on Jun 22, 2010

This is so beautifully written and I am printing it and taking it to my long suffering family doctor who does not make the money his specialist friends do. Thank you so much for sharing this with us patients who don't understand the incredible sacrifice and pain you carry within you.

10:36AM PDT on Jun 18, 2010

Your post brought tears to my eyes for the doctors I have known and loved, and the ones I haven't, for myself--burned to a crisp after 25 years working in an HMO that pushed us to the brink of collapse and to collapse. I cried because most MD's lose their love and their spark 3 years into their practice and I saw it happen time after time with "my docs" in the clinic where I worked the last 10 years. Angels came in, burned out, and hated the members for needing so much. Love is the answer. Self care and boundaries are the answer. Remembering is the answer. And, love of self, and others, is the answer. I am grateful for the people I was able to help and more grateful to be retired. Thank you for your poignant and heart-full blog.

8:36PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

Oh Nicki, I know your pain! The post brought me to tears, and your comment did all over again. I am also disabled and on medicaid and have been rebuffed by handsful of doctors and told it was all in my head. I don't have Lyme but I do have Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and both kinds of arthritis. I've actually been 'dismissed ' from a doctor's office before, after being told i need to go to a good shrink. Was it all in my head? No!

The thing about this post is that it reminded me of the few doctors like the author I have known. The ones who did listen, and did believe there was something truly wrong with me, even if they didn't know what it was immediately. The ones with a soul for their common men and women.

8:31PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

Wow. Really good post. Thanks.

4:23PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

Doctors/healers do have a calling. Society has very high expectations of them, and often they feel pressured to heal and afraid of sickness and death as if not being able to make a difference somehow makes them a failure. Doctors are not God even though some people make the mistake of trying to place them on a pedestal. It is the people who look to them for answers in the face of difficult dilemmas, the people struggling with cancer or other illnesses who need them to be there because they so desperately want a cure. Because doctors deal with life and death issues constantly it is especially important for them to be spiritual and to have compassion. But it also seems that the more compassion a person has, the more subject they are to burnout. So I feel that doctors deserve respect and grace and even when we are angry with them (they do get the brunt of our frustration with the health care system because we see them as the gatekeepers and most powerful members) we need to pray for them. Thanks for this inspirational article...I am lucky to have doctors who I trust and who I believe are doing the best they can for me.

4:17PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

I've never had or met a doctor like the author. I am now permanently and very painfully disabled because doctors refused to LISTEN to me. Years ago I had a growing list of alarming and debilitating symptoms, but kept being told it "was all in my head" and "nothing a good shrink can't cure." They threw anti-depressants at me like they were candy. I kept getting worse. I had done my research, knew my own body and was sure I had lyme disease, but it took me at least eight years to get one doctor to do the right test and take me seriously. By then it was too late for treatment to work. Now, the damage caused by lyme and the other conditions it has triggered has left me a virtual cripple. And since I can't work, I 'm stuck with Medicaid and now doctors won't even see me. The rare times they do, they simply tell me they can't help me. I no longer even have the energy to go to a doctor's appointment and I've lost hope because of the way I've been treated. If that very first doctor, who literally pulled the tick out of my body, had listened and wanted to help, instead of laughing at me, my story would be very different. My biggest complaint about doctors: they've refused to listen to me and treat me like I'm wasting their precious time. And, a note to the Canadian posters: one only has choices of doctors here if one is well insured. That is not me.

3:19PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

Thanks for the thought provoking article as well as all the interesting comments.

I find it amazing that many of you live in places that have enough doctors to be able to "shop around". As a Canadian I have never had to pay for a visit to the doctor's office but I have also never (or rarely over forty years) had a choice in who I could see when I needed medical care. I am fortunate to currently have a "family doctor". He is young, reasonably pleasant and a TERRIBLE listener. If I were to decide to not see him again I would not find a single physian within a two hour drive able to take new patients. Maybe we do get what we pay for.

12:13PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

I can count on one finger (yes, finger, not hand) the number of good doctors whom I have encountered. I spent 15 yrs bouncing around trying to find out what I had. I was repeatedly told it was "all in my head" or referred to a shrink (I went to them every time, but it did nothing for my physical symptoms.). I used to be a good patient. Now I question and get chewed out for it. One of my doctors ridiculed me about my weight, my high blood sugar levels and my cholesterol levels, none of which I had had any problem with before I started as his patient. I found out through some web research that one of the medications he had prescribed me was causing these problems. As soon as I was off that medication, those problems were gone.

I was even ridiculed once because my breasts were small. Another doctor told me he was sure my back pain was due to PMS. "You get backaches about once a month, isn't that it?" When he bothered to look at my back, the scoliosis was apparent. Doctors have not been my friends.

11:22AM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

It's easy for doctors to fall into a didactic "you know nothing and I know everything and you have (fill in the blank) with no investigation at all.

They have patients scheduled every 15 minutes like a factory and they schedule more than one patient for the same time.

I keep telling them we can get through talking about this or I can stay and wait right here until you have time to talk.

Yes there are money money bling bling doctors and dedicated doctors and fraud doctors from time to time. They aren't Gods even if they think so.

Call them on bad behavior you wouldn't tolerate otherwise.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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