Written by Randy Pilgrim, MD, FACEP, FAAFP
“The noblest intentions you ever had for entering this profession are still significant – and may be more critical now than ever.”
I didn’t always plan to become a physician. In fact, I changed to pre-med studies in the second semester of my senior year in college. However, I do remember the moment that convinced me to pursue a healing profession.
Many years before, I personally experienced what it meant to be cared for by a professional that I trusted and respected. I hardly recall the medical issue that spawned that encounter, but I remember how much the experience mattered to me. Having a well-trained physician providing care was important, but the experience of being cared for was genuinely transformative. That moment was probably the single most important factor that led me to become a physician.
The Profession of Medicine
The practice of medicine has origins that can be traced back to ancient times. Today, physicians carry forward much of that history, from the original Latin and Greek foundations through the Hippocratic Oath – a long, storied, and remarkable history that precedes all of us who have donned a white coat.
The term “profession” comes from the Latin professionem, meaning a “public declaration,” and a noun of action from the stem of profiteri, meaning to “declare openly.” Being a physician is just that – to publicly embrace and “profess” our calling. I love the pervasive sense of grounding, open commitment, and ownership. Being a physician is more than what we do. It’s who we are.
Fast forward from those noble roots to our tumultuous, chaotic world today. We now experience controversy, fragmentation, bureaucracy, and even outright attacks on a previously well-respected role in society. These are tough times, confusing on a good day and depressing on others. Despite everything going on in the world, our profession still has great relevance and – if we continue to live and breathe its essence – probably has more meaning now than we dare to believe.
We know our health care system is challenged and, at times, misaligned. But amid all of the imperfections and foibles we have, one thing constantly rings true. People still need healers. Patients need caring professionals. We may be empowered by technology and data, but they cannot replace us. Physicians can be augmented by Google and YouTube (if accurate) but cannot be supplanted.
I didn’t decide to become a physician because my browser found a great online resource. I decided because I personally experienced what it meant to be cared about by a knowledgeable, compassionate professional. People need other caring people to trust and rely on. Just ask COVID-19 patients who were isolated and lonely during the pandemic, sometimes unable to experience the full presence of a skilled professional. The treatments were the same. The healing experience was not.
Doctors Are Unique
Being a doctor is an incredible privilege. Every day, even ordinary and routine clinical duties can have an extraordinary impact. There are times in everyone’s life when they need a doctor. And we are there.
COVID-19 reinforced how much the definitive presence of a healer can mean. As physicians’ faces were veiled by masks and families weren’t allowed at bedsides, we exerted significant efforts to re-create presence and communication, using extra phone calls, virtual conferences, and other solutions. Patients and families really need their doctors. They need a meaningful, professional, human touch.
Patients also need expertise. Many patients have accessed newly available online resources to increase their health care knowledge, which is often helpful. It can also produce challenges from inaccuracies, lack of depth, and absence of clinical context. The depth of learning physicians possess from decades of education and experience is irreplaceable. Doctors learn the background, history, and science of health, disease, and healing. We are accountable for the technicalities, nuances, and humanness of medicine. We are here to deliver a repertoire of knowledge and clinical judgment that creates the art of healing. We bear the professional responsibility and risk of our actions.
Being a doctor is a noble calling, a big responsibility, and a huge opportunity.
On Doctors’ Day
So today, of all days, on Doctors’ Day, this is my fervent call to my fellow physicians.
Believe that what you do matters. The noblest intentions you ever had for entering this profession are still significant. Actually, those motivations – however remote they feel today – may be more critical now than ever. And in the face of everything, we must continue to believe in our value, embrace our unique contributions, and embody our work as a calling.
If we listen closely, the world continues to give us that very message. Even though we deploy our energies and skills amidst problems, questions, and issues, sometimes imperfectly, even while feeling exhausted and under siege, don’t forget to draw inspiration from even small messages of encouragement.
The messages from patients and families write are worth noting. Hundreds of messages – even during COVID-19: “Thank you for being there for me when I thought no one would be.” “Thank you for taking care of me.” “Thank you for being there for my family.”
Because of you, your passion, your commitment, and your courage, I continue to feel hopeful about health care.
Let your calling and your impact on our patients give you encouragement, hope, and a reason for gratitude. And encourage one another. Even while there’s noise.
Thank you for what you do and for who you are.
And Happy Doctor’s Day.