• linkedin
  • Increase Font
  • Sharebar

    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.


    Related: Hospitals are shifting to a retail model—will physicians follow?


    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.

    Next: Why patients have the most to lose

    Rebekah Bernard MD
    Dr Bernard was a National Health Care Scholar and served at a Federally Qualified Health Center in Immokalee, Florida for six years ...


    You must be signed in to leave a comment. Registering is fast and free!

    All comments must follow the ModernMedicine Network community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated. ModernMedicine reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part,in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

    • [email protected]
      What if one could prevent martyrdom in the first place? I've seen my share of struggling physicians over 40 years in medical practice and one has to ask, Why? The answer I have found to be the greatest tragedy in medicine over the last century. The bottom line is the total brainwashing of medical students, doctors, and academics into the belief that medical practice is not a business, in any sense of the word. Yet we as physicians all know medical practice is a business. We also know that businesses don't survive without understanding the principles of successful business and implementing them from the start. Why then do all medical schools and nearly all physicians, even though they all know this fact, then completely ignore it? There's a reason. If a physician has never been told, or taught, that it's a good idea to learn business essentials, the foundation of any business and it's ultimate success, it leaves them with a choice. Either they choose to believe a business education will definitely help them, or they accept what their environment provides them, no control over their careers and potential. The problem is that when they start private medical practice they are predestined to fail both business-wise and consequently financial-wise. When doctors finally recognize the reason for their failure, as thousands of doctors today are suffering from, they continue their way to martyrdom... at least that's in their thoughts. They are completely ignorant about how to reverse the process. They don't know how to earn money in a business, to maintain a good practice, to expand their incomes and become much better qualified doctors provided by the increased income. Until then, physicians remain prisoners of business ignorance, and continue to be forced to suffer the consequences of decreasing incomes, no control of their careers, and even refuse to get a business education because they can't afford it. Does this make sense to you? You don't know what you don't know, nor what I know to be true. and they consequently are left to believe the myth of medical education tradition---doctors don't need it---
    • Anonymous
      So true. I made it a point to teach myself the business of medicine because without it one is oblivious to what is going on in the office, the institution, organized medicine, and the swamps in our local, state, and federal governments. This I believe is a major reason why medicine is in the mess it is in regarding the Obamacare disaster and every other third party intervention into the practice of medicine I've seen since the mid-70s. As Pogo once famously said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
    • [email protected]
      Dr. Bernard reminds me of a PETA activist(mostly female) who abhors hunting and devotes her precious time to banning hunting by Americans(mostly men) who love hunting. Like the PETA activists and modern feminists, she has been groomed by the State to virtue-label others, rather than speak to them, and to not recognize the fact that men's brains are different than women's. For a pediatric urologist to prefer helping children to eating lunch is not "martyrdom," (using Bernard's false definition of martyrdom) but it is his pursuit of happiness and financial success, the reason this country was founded. If one takes the time to read the article, "Lunch is for Losers," and reflect on it, the author notes that he rarely saw his surgeon father and the father of a friend served as a surrogate. He loved that man, but failed to attend his funeral. This is normal male behavior. Most men's brains are designed to focus on work and provide for their wife and family. Women are rarely happy being away from their children, so working as many hours as men are required to advance in their careers often does make them unhappy and "burnt out." Women, especially pre-menopausal women, have a different metabolism than men of their age, and many cannot skip lunch. Feminist propagandists are employed by the State to groom young women to become emotional when men behave like men, and there is an entire industry that preys on these female "social justice warriors." The young men of America suffer greatly because of the "War on Men" that leaves them fatherless, uneducated, penniless, and broken. The main source of "burnout" in today's primary care physicians, however, began 100 years ago with the Flexner Report and the Progressives' war on the Hippocratic private physician. Our government-funded medical schools and residency programs taught us that the old Hippocratic American physician was a "quack" and did not practice "scientific medicine" in the way the lawyer Flexner said we should. This idea of the Progressives was not any more scientific than their idea that the White Race is superior and "inferior races" should have their reproduction limited by forced sterilization and birth control. Hundreds of millions of human beings suffered and died due to their Fake Science in the 20th century alone, and our government schools and globalist-owned media do not point this fact out about the failure of Progressive rule over We the People. Today's government health system that started with Medicare is the real cause of "burn out" and all of the other problems of the "healthcare system." Chaos systems theory will tell you than government bureaucrats should not be in charge of a human being's health. The government does not fund studies that will prove that it is lying and that its power apparatus should be dismantled, so no journal references are provided here. As I would like to start a private pediatric practice in Hesperia, I will go to Dr. Bernard's website for information. As I am a kind of natural martyr, that is witness to the Truth, I keep getting distracted from my goal by such articles as this that are filled with falsehoods, but somehow are published in magazines like Medical Economics.
    • Anonymous
      I spent 20 years in full time academic medicine practice, and another 15 years of direct patient primary care in various private/public settings. One term I learned in recent years from trainees is so called "work-life balance." I have also noted a concomitant deterioration in the quality of medical care I have received over time, to the point that I have had to intervene/protest multiple times when I or my loved ones have received what I consider to be substandard care. Most are due to the fact that doctors and nurses are paying more attention to computers than patients, especially superficial or near absent histories & physicals, mostly on fully clothed patients!! One thing I have always taught my young trainees is to forget about starting your career with "work-life balance." You need to eat, sleep and drink 24/7 the practice of medicine at least 10 years before you have the knowledge AND experience to be really good at it. My other parting advice to them is, "This ain't about YOU!!" I rest my case.

    Latest Tweets Follow