6 Not-So-Obvious Roles Docs Play

August 27, 2010

Disaster relief worker, community health promoter, patient advocate? Being a doctor affords you the opportunity to make a difference in your patients’ lives in a number of other ways.

You may be thinking, “I already know what I do - I’m a doctor, and I treat and care for people on a daily basis.” Well, yes. But you’re so much more. Being a doctor affords you the opportunity to make a difference in a number of other ways, too, leveraging your knowledge, skills, and compassion to help folks in big ways and small. You’re not just a doctor. You’re also a vital:

Disaster relief worker: When Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti struck, doctors willing to work onsite provided much-needed and highly effective help. While many volunteers are sidelined waiting for instruction, doctors can get right in the mix, treating the injured on the scene.

Community health promoter: Your medical education provides you with tons of knowledge that pertains to the quality and length of life of your fellow humans. By sharing that information - on everything from hand washing to STDs to smoking cessation - at local wellness fairs or free clinics, or by speaking at prisons, community centers, or schools, you improve the health and well-being of your community.

Mentor: You’re also able to have a significant impact on the future of your vocation. Many practicing docs moonlight as medical school instructors, train residents at the local hospital, or take younger partners under their wings.

Patient advocate: Follow-up calls, appointment reminders, e-mails - these little patient services might not seem like much to you, but they mean the world to your patients. These acts tell them that they are not alone in the healthcare wilderness. It can also make a big difference to their health: effective patient follow-up leads to better clinical outcomes and early detection of new symptoms.

Resource provider: Unfortunately, you’re not always the bearer of good news. Sometimes you have to deliver the blow that a patient has a life-threatening disease, a chronic illness, or a debilitating injury. As patients grapple with their diagnoses, many docs help alleviate their fear and worry by providing resources to help patients get reliable information about their condition and its treatment, as well as about local and national support groups.

Compassionate listener: If you surf patient chat rooms and physician rating sites, the common thread in stories about why patients like their physicians or feel a doc “changed their life” is compassion. On one site a patient wrote of her favorite doc: “I swear she actually cares how I feel when she asks me.” For many people, being sick or even going to the doctor’s office is a scary, uncomfortable experience. The simple act of listening to a patient’s concerns with your full attention and offering advice or reassurance makes a bigger difference to many of your patients than you probably realize. Way to go, doc!

Abigail Beckel is managing editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at abigail.beckel@cmpmedica.com.

Sara Michael is senior editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at sara.michael@cmpmedica.com.