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Lane: Has medicine lost the personal touch?

BY JOE LANE | APRIL 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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Last week,  The Daily Iowan reported on the forthcoming physician shortage that is projected to face the United States.

By 2025, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there is projected to be a physician shortage of 46,000-90,000 physicians across the country. There is an expected increase in physician demand of 11 to 17 percent and an increase in physicians of only 9 percent in the same time span.

The DI’s Cindy Garcia explained that the shortage is not likely to affect UI Hospitals and Clinics as negatively as other areas of the countries.

Although the medical-college group said the shortage is mostly an issue of federal funding for residency programs, the article brought to mind a question I have had since I first became interested in the field. Is medicine the same noble profession it once was or has legislation removed the personal touch?

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal published an article in which Sandeep Jauhar talked about a growing distaste for his profession. Jauhar said recent surveys have indicated that a majority of doctors would discourage a friend or family member from joining the medical field.

Doctors have started to look at their profession as merely a job, he said, as opposed to a greater purpose in life, which causes big issues for the doctors and the patients they treat.

Jauhar admits that between obscene amounts of paperwork and the pressing need for every patient to receive every test imaginable to appease insurance companies, he, too, has fallen out of love with his profession.

Has the profession that once garnered more respect than any other become nothing more than a job? Have HMOs and insurance companies turned kind-hearted, caring physicians into nothing more than form-completers? It’s a scary prospect.

I began my undergraduate career on the pre-med track. As soon as I understood that my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player were over, the medical field consumed my professional aspirations.

I remember listening to family members and friends in the medical field explain with great detail the inner-workings of the human body. I became fascinated with the medical field and everything it had to offer: the ability to save someone’s life with your hands, to gain such vast knowledge and to be viewed as a hero by those whose lives you’ve touched.

My grandfather was a family-practice doctor in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Despite his not retiring until his 70s, he always said that he only did so because he didn’t like where medicine was headed. He felt that the patient was no longer the primary concern and that he didn’t want to be a part of a medical system that operated that way.

As I decide which career path I may take, my grandfather’s warning about the medical system is always on my mind. At the same time, however, I can hear the complete and utter joy in his voice as he describes his interactions with patients.

While it may not be the main reason for doctor shortages, a decreased emphasis on patient care has certainly negatively affected the medical profession. After all, if my grandfather was right — which I suspect he was — the medical field is no longer the honorable profession he embodied. And if that’s the case, then medicine may not be the dream job I, and others, once thought it was.


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