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Reflections on 2011

Most year end reviews come at the end of December. At that time I was working full speed as an attending physician on our hospital’s general medical service and never saw the light of day. Immediately afterwards, I took over an extremely busy geriatric consult service. However, I am now back from two weeks of rest and recuperation in the sun and once again capable of stringing words together.

This past year was a momentous one for several of my colleagues who became members of the Order of Canada or Ontario. They are all exceptional physicians and scientists who are more than worthy of the honours they received. What about the rest of us, who work hard and feel successful, but labour in relative obscurity? What about our recognition?

In fact, I believe that most of us know that we are recognized by that most important group, our patients. I have been practicing medicine as a specialist since 1979, and I still feel that we are part of a noble profession. I still feel that if I go home after a ‘good’ day, it is truly a win-win experience, for me and my patients. We have the opportunity to work in a field that allows us on a daily basis to help other human beings, and unlike others in the helping/caring professions (e.g. social workers, teachers), we are among the highest paid professionals in society (although more would be even better!). Not only are we helping people, but the work itself is intellectually demanding and satisfying. I am hoping the daily intellectual demands of medicine will protect me against dementia in the future (although some of my colleagues feel it is already too late for that).

For me, the most surprising part of practicing medicine is the tremendous amount of respect we get, from our patients and society at large. This contributes to the ‘psychic’ pay (as opposed to money pay) that we receive for our jobs. Sometimes, however, we take this respect for granted, and in hospital at least, expect our patients to agree with everything we say or do. In effect, we expect sick hospital patients to grant us respect even if we do not earn it. I am starting to enjoy the ‘difficult patients’ who demand explanations and reasons for my actions. They remind me that in most person to person interactions trust is earned, not granted just because of a position and title. I am trying more and more to explain my thought processes and reasons to all my patients, especially in those areas where evidence is sketchy and treatment may not be beneficial.

Enjoy this new year, and I hope some of you become members of the Order of Canada!
Regards,
Barry Goldlist