A few weeks ago, I was approached by a contact on Twitter who asked me to participate in an online “blog carnival.” The theme was motivation and how it plays into our roles as patients, providers and caregivers. The deadline for submission (which I just looked at) was September 17th.
It is obvious to anyone who reads my blog that I am an infrequent writer. I find creative writing very difficult, yet I purposefully avoid using this blog for breast-cancer related posts, which would come easily for me. There are many physicians, patients and advocates who write incredibly moving and well-researched posts related to all aspects of breast cancer. So I started this blog with the intention of writing about “other stuff”. However as I’m known to say, “life gets in the way.” I need a strong smack of inspiration coupled with a large chunk of free time to put together a post. Rarely do free time and inspiration co-exist in my world.
However, the topic of motivation has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks now. And while I missed the deadline for the contest, I’m really not one for competitive writing anyway. So what motivates me?
Being a physician is hard. I’m not complaining – this is my chosen profession – although I think it actually chose me. The responsibility of taking care of patients and performing surgery is physically and mentally draining, the hours are incredibly long, and my life is never my own. I am a surgeon focusing on women (and some men) with breast-related problems, and a large part of that is breast cancer.
We have made much progress in the detection and treatment of breast cancer since I started medical school 26 years ago. However I still see women presenting with advanced and metastatic disease. I am still puzzled and frustrated by the patient who presented with a favorable early-stage cancer, but who then develops metastatic disease. And I still take these and many other stories home with me each and every night.
We have made much progress, but we have a very long way to go. Yet one thing, thankfully, has not changed – what to me is the essence of the physician-patient relationship. One of the reasons that I decided to focus on the care of patients with breast disease was that I recognized early in my career that I actually enjoyed talking to my patients. Getting to know them and their families. Having a kinship with them in addition to a professional relationship. And this came much more naturally with my breast patients than with patients who were seeing me for a limited time, for example to have their gallbladder removed or hernia repaired. I noticed, as did my staff, that I spent more time with my patients than did my colleagues. And my patients recognized this as well.
So I put up with the increasing financial and administrative pressures. The challenges of running a small business that is being increasingly legislated and regulated. The frustration that we’re not where I would like us to be in terms of our science.
What motivates me? It’s simple really – I can’t always cure, but I can always care.