In my reading this week, I was particularly touched by a perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

In medicine, we see many happy stories, but also some very sad and difficult journeys that our patients endure.  It is well known and increasingly discussed how much impact these sad stories can have on the psyche and well being of doctors, nurses, and allied health care professionals, but as this article points out – what about those who have administrative and support roles in medicine?   I think it is wonderful that this article brings this important point to attention, and so I wanted to share it.

The article is written by a physician, recalling a day when her secretary became upset after transcribing a letter written by the doctor about a patient’s impending death due to cancer.

“Rough morning?” (the doctor asks)

She takes off her headset. “This letter. I have been typ
ing letters about Kathy for a couple of years now. I’ve never met her, but she’s always so nice on the phone. I just wish I could just write a different ending to her story.”

Administrative, secretarial and support members of the clinical care paradigm are right up there with us on the front lines of patient care – even on the front lines for us in many cases, handling phone calls of patients dealing with serious health issues, being the first smiling face patients see as they arrive at our offices, and often getting to know our patients quite well if they are frequently visiting us, calling us, or seeing us over an extended period of time (in the practice of endocrinology, this can be years or even decades).   Our patients’ journeys have an impact on everyone whose lives they touch.

I feel that it is so important to keep the lines of communication and friendship open amongst everyone participating in clinical care, so that everyone knows they have the support they need if they are struggling to handle the emotional burden of a patient case or situation.  I feel so grateful to have such a wonderful work family at our clinic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that it enhances the quality of our work days and our satisfaction with our work lives, to know that we truly are a family, not only celebrating the successes but also sharing the burden of any sadness that we encounter in our patients’ journeys.

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