I jumped in a taxi this evening outside Kalgoorlie airport and asked the driver to take me to the GP surgery where I’m working for a few weeks. His eyes lit up, “OH! Are you a doctor?!” I said that I was. He then proceeded to tell me a story about my recently retired predecessor who had been his family doctor for 30 years. This doctor had gone over and above the call of duty to look after him when he landed in hospital with serious illnesses over the years and had made himself available for round-the-clock home visits when his wife was dying of cancer. The respect and appreciation was obvious in his voice and it was clear that this doctor would be sorely missed.
Every so often, it’s good to have reminder of the impact we have on patients, over and above the day-to-day management of their medical ailments. The relationship between doctor and patient that is built up over months, years and decades is often therapeutic in itself. It’s sometimes easy to forget that fact, distracted as we are by piles of paperwork, ever changing clinical guidelines, increasing bureaucratic hoops to jump through and the demands of managing a small business.
But let’s not forget that beyond the repeat scripts and the BP checks and the lifestyle counselling and pap smears, we’re actually playing a bigger role. To some of our patients, we are becoming their trusted source of advice, their navigator through the health system, their interpreter of medical jargon, their cheerleader on the road to better health and their sounding board when times are tough.
Of course, some patients will only cross our paths briefly, the encounter forgotten as soon as the medicare claim goes through. But if some of my patients think of me with such warmth and appreciation when I come to retire, I’ll consider it a job well done.