Columns for The Lufkin News

The Profession of Medicine

Posted May 06, 2014 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Physicians today rarely encourage students to consider becoming a doctor. There are quicker ways to start earning a good living. (Petroleum Engineering and Investment Banking come to mind.) But beyond the financial aspect, being a doctor just isn’t the same as it once was. Increasingly, patients don’t trust doctors, much less respect them or care whether or not they are happy.

A recent online Daily Beast article suggests the public should have more empathy for doctors. The author notes that 300 physicians will commit suicide this year, making it #2 on the list of the 19 jobs where you are most likely to kill yourself, according to Business Insider.

Why? She believes well-intentioned people working to solve the healthcare crisis have come up with answers that are “driving up costs and driving out doctors.” A simple example: “Just processing the insurance forms costs $58 for every patient encounter.” She also quotes noted writer Malcolm Gladwell, “You don’t train someone for all of those years in [medicine]… and then have them run a claims processing operation for insurance companies.”

Insurance claims, bureaucratic red tape, “quality” metrics (that are often more about trying to successfully report than actual quality) – all of these take away from face time with patients and chip away at the joy of what is increasingly becoming an unrewarding profession, not only monetarily, but emotionally.

In other words, practicing medicine has become a demeaning, demoralizing, punitive, bureaucratic nightmare for many physicians.

Don’t get me wrong. Most physicians make a good (or even great) living. I do, and I am not ashamed of it. As an honor graduate from Rice University with a medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine, followed by an additional four year residency, I am proud of my training and feel I have worked hard to get where I am. But with position comes responsibility.

Unfortunately, physicians have, for decades now, not paid attention to the cost of prescribing the latest and greatest drug when an older, cheaper generic is just as effective. Likewise, we put expensive imaging and treatment equipment in our offices and refused to acknowledge that there may be a conflict of interest, when studies show we order more tests and do more procedures as a result.

On top of that, I fear there is a growing contingency of younger physicians who see the practice of medicine as a job only, with a corresponding (and alarming) callousness toward the poor and uninsured.

There is hope. We have many physicians in Lufkin who have earned our respect, and I am honored to call them colleagues. Since 2008, Drs. Ravinder Bachireddy, George Fidone, and Kay Carter (and Mrs. Demetress Harrell) have each been recognized as Healthcare Professional of the Year at the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce Salute to Healthcare banquet. The Chamber has also honored Drs. WD Thames, Anna Beth Connell, George Thannisch, Dan Spivey, and Jacob Thomas with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Young physicians, who may not have gone into medicine for the “right’ reasons – indeed, all of us – would do well to follow their example.

Emily Shelton, the wife of my long-time partner, Dr. Bill Shelton, gave me sage, simple advice when I first moved to Lufkin in 1992: “Just do what’s right.” A sense of duty, compassion for the poor, cooperation with the healthcare team, communication with patients and families, collegiality with fellow physicians, and, of course, excellence of care are hallmarks of a great physician. That’s what being a doctor is all about. It can still be a rewarding, respected profession if we “just do what’s right.”

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Radiation Oncologist

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

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Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

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Linda Miller, MS

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Evelyn Leach

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