Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Tag: apology

“One Word, Benjamin: ‘Plastics!’ “

Is medicine still a noble profession? Would you advise your child to enter the field?the-graduate----plastics

You don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of medical professional burnout or job dissatisfaction. The ground is shifting underneath all of us as the industry undergoes massive political, economic, and social transformation.

A Chicago college advisor named Regnal Jones, who has been helping mentor students into medical school for almost thirty years is now advising against it. [Dentistry, meanwhile, is still advised.] Here are the key reasons he provides, quoted from a Chicago Tribune column:

“The cost is too great, and it’s a lousy job….The minute you say to me that you want to be a physician, it’s tantamount to saying you want to be an indentured servant.”

Jones said he feels so strongly in part because medical school tuition can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the time investment, depending on whether the student wants, for example, to be an internist or surgeon or orthopedist, can consume years of his or her life.

The indentured servant reference is telling. Jones is the executive director of the Chicago Area Health and Medical Careers Program that recruits students from underrepresented racial and socioeconomic groups. Over almost three decades, he’s helped thousands of students enter health fields and other professions.

I find this very sad.


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a snarky post poking fun at the city of Portland, OR. By some accounts there are too many handicapped placards issued in Portland, and not enough parking spaces for all those possessing them.

Further, those with placards are able to park for free–indefinitely–in metered city spaces.

I mean no ill will to people with disabilities. The snarky tone was inappropriate. Blogging is a chance for me to hone my voice, and to sometimes be playful, but I woefully missed the mark here, as many readers let me know. I’m more appreciative that being disabled involves many indignities, inconveniences and extra costs–and allowing convenient free parking is only a fraction of what we can do to be more helpful as a society.

The main point of the post is that it’s somewhat ludicrous to have doctors be the arbiters of who can get hang tags. It leads to exactly the problem they’re having in Portland.

I’m sorry for the harm I’ve caused.

Principles of Service [Not.]

C'mon, guys!

C’mon, guys!

Dad has emphysema. He wears oxygen at home.

One night, he becomes short of breath. More than usual. He starts hacking. You call 911.

Dad looks worse and worse. Gasping. Where’s the damn ambulance?

You call back. It’s on it’s way, they tell you. This isn’t how it works on TV, that’s for sure.

After thirty minutes, an ambulance finally arrives. But it’s too late. Dad’s dead.

He was old and sick; increasingly frail. It was a Saturday night. No doubt a busy night for ambulances. But thirty minutes?

A month later, a bill arrives. For almost $800. For ambulance services. Now you’re really pissed. You start complaining about this. Widely. Talk about adding insult to injury!

A city council member takes up your cause.

You can bet this is one bill that’s going to go away. Service recovery, I believe it’s called in industry. A real lemon here, but a chance for a sincere apology. An opportunity to make nice.

Who will step up?

Making Nice

Over the summer, a couple of news stories stood out to me as examples of lemons and lemonade:

First, the prix du citron:

Smarmy or sincere?

Tony Hayward of BP, after his company’s oil rig ‘malfunctioned’ and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He had a few choice doozies. You probably remember:

The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.

Now technically, he was correct. But emotionally, he couldn’t have been more wrong. His comment made him appear like a callous and unsympathetic weasel.

A bit later, when the heat from the spill and the negative media attention were at their height, he was quoted as saying

There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.

Oh, really? Listen bub, nobody whose life has been affected by the oil leak wants to hear about your needs. Can you say TONE DEAF?

A few days later, when spotted watching his yacht in a race, it was clear the man himself had become too toxic to stay at the helm of BP.

Example #2: Another summer media kerfuffle, a kind of strange one, that showed a way of making lemonade out of a real stinkbomb lemon.

Do the Right Thing

Remember Shirley Sherrod, the career USDA employee who became ensnared in an out-of-context webinoma (I just made that up: a cancerous internet situation- ed.)? Two minutes of thirty-plus minute speech were taken out of context in a way that made her appear racist. The public outcry led to her firing before anyone had a chance to review the evidence and learn the full story.

After learning that they had been snookered by the slanted portrayal of Sherrod, federal officials backtracked from their criticism and offered her a promotion, handling outreach and advocacy and addressing issues of race both in and outside the agency.

From my vantage point, even beyond getting her job back, it was President Obama’s phone call to her that really started to turn the sour sweet. They spoke for seven minutes, and Obama didn’t specifically apologize. But he expressed empathy, and asked her to continue her work on behalf of the agency and the federal government.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

This was a classic example of “Making Nice.” Using the ol’ telephone to reach out and work through a problem or redress a concern.

I’d love to hear your stories of people doing you wrong and then making it right. Or doing you wrong and just leaving it that way. How did it make you feel? What would you have liked to hear?

In medical care, there’s growing evidence that making nice is a win-win. Patients win because when they feel wronged, someone is validating their concerns and offering those simple little words: “I’m sorry.” The evidence shows that it saves money on the hospital’s side: Less anger means fewer lawsuits and claims of damages.

Nothing wrong with a win-win in my book.

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