Learning the Subway Was Easy. Finding a New Doctor Was a Different Story.

By Tyler Weingart, August 16, 2018

When I moved to New York City two years ago from Washington, D.C., I knew I was leaving behind many things I would miss. My friends, favorite restaurants, the Metro (not really) and so much more.

What I didn’t realize was how much I would miss my primary care doctor—someone I had built a relationship with over many years. As a healthy 20-something-year-old, I only saw this person a handful of times each year, but he knew me. He knew what I did for a living, how many times a week I worked out, and what my diet was like. I felt comfortable answering his questions because I trusted him. Most importantly, he got to know me as a person, not just as a patient.

In my first few months of living in the Big Apple, I had a checklist of to-dos (as any Type-A person does). Learn how to use the subway, check! Find out where the best Chinese takeout is, check!

The last item on my list that I continued to put off, however, was finding a new primary care doctor.

Even with great health benefits and a plethora of options, I dreaded “starting over” and rebuilding a relationship like the one I had with my D.C. doc. But when a bout of chronic knee pain took over my morning commute, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.

The first doctor I saw for my knee kept me waiting over an hour and the appointment lasted less than ten minutes. It was a quick, cold visit. Needless to say, I moved on, limping my way through the subway as my knee pain got worse.

Then a friend referred me to a practice she had been going to for years. After a 40-minute visit with this new doctor, I had a prescription for physical therapy, a referral to an orthopedic specialist, and an x-ray order, just to be sure nothing more serious was going on.

Aside from the outcome, the appointment itself was completely different from the one I had with my first New York doctor. This new doctor took his time to get to know me and asked me all the questions I wanted him to ask. He made me feel confident about his treatment plan, even calling me a few weeks later to see how the physical therapy was going and to make sure I connected with his colleague in orthopedics.

This is the kind of doctor everyone should have, and deserves.

What struck me after all this is the importance of having a good relationship with your doctor. In fact, countless studies have found that a good relationship fosters better communication, which improves diagnosis and health outcomes.

But these relationships take time. Many factors make it hard for health professionals to build rapport with their patients. Today’s health care environment is complex and places many stressors on physicians. They want to put their patients’ needs first and take the time to get to know them, but they must also manage competing demands on their time, energy, abilities, and their own mental health.

But I am optimistic.

To help the next generation of health care providers be the best clinicians they can be and continue to put patients first, medical schools across the country are developing innovative approaches to “teaching professionalism.” While there is no agreed-upon definition, medical professionalism is described as a set of values, ethics, behaviors, and relationships that underpin how doctors care for their patients. Providers who act “medically professionally” put their patients first, advocate for their patients, and provide health care that is evidence-based and cost-effective.

Ensuring that our future doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are trained to “act professionally’’ is a key concern for our Burness partner, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. In its new report, Educating and Training to Professionalism, Macy shares insights and lessons learned from an initiative that established pilot programs at 19 academic health centers across the country to teach professionalism at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The report also outlines for other medical schools what it will take to build professionalism programs at their institutions.

After meeting several program leads from the project, I was blown away by their approach and commitment to improving health professions education. Leaders and programs like these keep me hopeful for the future. If we support our future doctors and nurses so that they can be the partner we are looking for in a provider, we will no longer feel that anxiety I had about finding a new physician. It’s going to take all of us working together, but I am excited to see that we are on the right track.


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