Every day we see their faces in news stories on TV or in images on social media. We laud them for their bravery. Politicians argue over where they should go and who they should help. They are the physicians on the frontlines of a crisis.
The perception is that doctors should be perfect. They should know all the answers and the right treatments for this new disease the world has never seen. They shouldn’t complain — after all, don’t they have fancy houses and nice cars?
The truth is physicians didn’t get into medicine for salary or prestige. They wanted to help people. They feel the pressure of a nation looking to them for guidance during a scary time. They celebrate their patients who recover, and they feel the deep loss of the patients who don’t.
At Jackson & Coker, we speak to thousands of physicians each year, seeking to understand their pain points, their challenges, their career dreams. We conducted a survey of our physicians to ask how they’re doing during this crisis and gain insight into how coronavirus has affected them.
The responses were eye-opening — and at times, heartbreaking — to read. Doctors feel the same anxieties, financial burdens, worries about family, uncertainties for the future that we all do. But they feel all this with the added pressure of being looked upon to be a hero when they may not feel especially heroic.
“We are heroes in our community and lepers at home,” one physician responded in our survey. Many are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and must self-quarantine away from family and friends for weeks or months at a time. As we heard time and again in the survey, “The weight of knowing that if my family members get ill with this virus, it will be directly attributable to me is a burden I would not wish on an enemy.”
Many of us forget that physicians take on an average of $200,000 in student loan debt to be able to help people. Physicians face long hours and being away from their families. They are suffering from shuttered clinical offices and are faced with forgoing their own salary and bills to keep paying their administrative staff.
When you see a physician, know that behind the mask, behind the determination to help patients, behind the heroism is a person just like you. So, what can we as average citizens do to help the doctors who need us just as much as we need them?
For one, we as individuals need to be accountable for our health. That means forgoing the party with friends where you can’t social distance. That means quit smoking if your doctor tells you to. That means doing all we can to stay healthy and reduce burden on the physicians who must care for us if we get sick.
If you do get sick, isolate yourself. Don’t walk right into the doctor’s office and risk well patients and staff who are in the building. Call your doctor first and follow the correct protocols.
Keep up the words of support, the delivered meals, the thank you notes. One of our doctors said: “Kids leaving positive messages written with colorful chalk. People are just more aware of each other. That seems different...I realized how much I missed that and how much that means to all of us. A sense of connection...The message is you see me, and you actually know me.”
I challenge you to see the humanity in the medical professionals who serve you. I challenge you to get to know them on a personal level. I challenge you to be accountable for the role you play in keeping your community healthy.
All of us — including doctors — are in this together.
Tim Fischer is president at Jackson & Coker, one of the nation’s largest healthcare staffing firms and headquartered in Alpharetta.