Doctors Day 2020 – Anything But Happy

“Doctors Day” – usually preceded by “Happy,” as in “Happy Doctors Day,” today, feels anything but happy. Aside from a surprise mid-day carrot cake from an appreciative office staff, the general sentiment among doctors isn’t roses, smiles, and sunshine. Here’s why.

Each of us “doctors” have friends, family, and former classmates on the front lines battling coronavirus. These colleagues are risking their own health and that of their families to fight Covid-19. Doctors often draw upon prior knowledge and experience to treat – and in most cases – rise victorious over illness. Covid-19, with the novelty of the unknown, is requiring doctors to adapt, learn by experience, and simply do-their-best, knowing full well they may lack key knowledge to unlock the cure. Seemingly inexplicably, doctors have inadequate masks, gloves, and other PPE to perform their duties safely. What’s more, while tirelessly working to save lives, these doctors are being told their pay will be decreased, by even the ivoriest of the ivory towers, and these pay cuts are just the tip of the iceberg. Doctors today go home at night to children and spouses they cannot hug for fear of the Covid contagion.

And once all is said and done – once Covid has become the C-19* (sp) – the well-understood asterisk to footnote every history, sports, and record-book, will the doctors be hailed as heroes? Probably not. The heroes will be those who, in this time of great need, expanded their scope of practice, practicing to the full extent (and beyond) of their license. Doctors are simply “doing their job,” while the others will have done “more than their job,” further undermining the physician education and training.

These struggles are primarily shouldered by our physician colleagues practicing in hospital settings such as Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, etc. However, the struggles felt on this “Doctors Day,” extend to all specialties. We all know of colleagues whose businesses (ie, medical practice) will soon face bankruptcy-threatening cash flow problems, physicians who must now furlough or terminate employees just to keep the lights on, and even then, medicine’s collective clinic lights are switched on only for urgent and emergent scenarios. Operating rooms nation- and world-wide are dark, and the “elective” cases being rescheduled will at some point become “urgent,” or even “emergent” as routine problems worsen with time.

Today, we “doctors” are worried. We are worried about our patients, our staff, and our families. The emotional tax of this worry is unforgiving, and while currently the payback of this tax is postponed – it will – at some point come due. The administrative burdens are not being cancelled, but simply delayed, being stacked in every corner, of every office or hospital desk and email inbox, so that doctors can “be doctors,” saving patients, employees, and largely, the global economy today, but tomorrow requiring a “doc-to-doc” to justify an obviously-indicated medication, wait on hold for prior authorization for an urgent procedure, and satisfy P, Q, R, S, and soon TUVWXYZ for medicare reimbursement. Doctors everywhere are emotionally, financially, and socially – operating in the red. Today’s struggles will unfortunately lead to greater burnout, physician-depression, unhealthy addiction, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, and yes, I said it, physician suicide.

I personally won’t remember this Doctors Day 2020 as being a “Happy Doctors Day” – and you know what, that’s ok.

I will remember thinking about my former classmates and physician colleagues on the front lines of medicine several times throughout this day, hoping these, my friends and comrades, might feel, somehow, my support and encouragement for their work and sacrifice – a hug, a pat on the back, a, “hey, you’ve got this, hang in there.” I will remember this Doctors Day as being a day when I spoke to every patient through a surgical mask, made enjoyable small talk with NO family due to visitor restrictions, told a man his surgical condition would have to wait as it did not meet criteria of being an “emergency,” when the glove-covered skin on my hands cracked from from alcohol disinfectant and scratchy paper-towels.

Today may not be the happiest of doctor days, but for many tomorrows to come will I remember the woman who thanked me for our office being open so her emergency could be addressed, the elderly patient who thanked me for my efforts to keep him safe and healthy via pre-visit telephone screening, a temperature check at the door, a largely-empty waiting room, minimal wait-time, and an obsessive attention to cleanliness. This year may not be a Happy Doctors Day, and you know what, that’s ok. This Doctors Day 2020, forever asterisked *C-19, when doctors were too busy doctoring – intubating, resuscitating, triaging, consulting, operating – to worry about themselves, their health, or their own happiness – the year when doctors did what they do best – doctor.