This summer marked 12 years since I became a family physician. I have had my family practice, whereby I am primary care physician for close to a thousand patients, for the past 10 years. I have learned a tremendous amount this past decade but over the past couple of years I have come to realize that I cannot be everything to everyone.
Let me state that again.
I cannot be everything to everyone.
In the early days of practice, I used to believe that if I couldn’t help a patient that must mean I failed them in some way. After one patient yelled at me because I wasn’t helping them enough, I nearly broke down. I was just back from my first maternity leave and struggling with my own post-partum depression. To be yelled at in my own office and basically told that I was a shitty doctor, well it was the first time I came to tears while seeing a patient. I had to excuse myself and take a breath. Thank goodness for my colleagues present in the office that day. After I composed myself and debriefed with one of them, I walked back into the exam room. I listened to his concerns and formulated a plan for him. The appointment ended.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. I can’t fix people’s lives and while I believe that many patients don’t really expect me to, there is often an unspoken expectation that because I am a physician, I somehow have the answer to all that ails them.
Let me be perfectly clear on this…. I do not.
I can’t fix your life.
I can provide you advice, counsel and recommend options to you – all this in about 15 minutes, sometimes half an hour. I just can’t delve into your life and pick the up the pieces for you. I can’t do that for one patient, let alone close to a thousand patients.
Having said that, I still do sometimes want to be able to be present for and participate in all aspects of a patient’s care – to be there when their baby is born; to be there when the breast cancer is surgically removed; to be there when the chemotherapy is administered; to hold their hand as they take their last breath.
I want to do it all. I want to be that all-encompassing physician who does it all.
But I can’t.
I need to come to terms with that.