The problem of martyrdom in medicine
I recently read the award-winning physician essay in Medical Economics entitled “Lunch is for Losers,” about the sacrifice that physicians make for patient care. As I read this doctor’s reflections of keeping crackers and candy bars in his lab coat pockets because he didn’t have time to eat during his med school days, it reminded me of the GYN attending I had in my residency who loved to cheerfully tell bleary-eyed interns: “You can sleep when you’re dead.”
Further reading: Everyone wins when we put patients first
But you know what? Lunch isn’t for losers. Sleep isn’t only for the dead.
News flash: Doctors, like everyone else, are human. It’s time that we not only acknowledge that to ourselves, but to the world. We are not supermen. We are people, individually flawed, doing our best every single day to help others.
The problem is that we’ve made a ton of sacrifice to get where we are, we’re used to delaying gratification, and at some point in our medical training, we start to develop a delusional sense of indispensability and martyrdom. You know, like lunch is for losers and sleeping is for the dead.
And since physicians tend to be highly motivated, intelligent and resilient, we get away with burning the candle at both ends for a very long time. Unfortunately, at some point, we burn so brightly that we burn ourselves out. And when doctors burn out, patients lose.