In this guest post, I am honored to host Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Phillips, a resident physician in emergency medicine at George Washington University. She wrote this statement as part of her Total Transparency Manifesto on Who’s My Doctor. It was so moving that I asked her for permission to post it here. Thank you, Liz, for your inspiration and your humanity.
I am a physician and therefore a servant of others but I am also a human being. I believe in the importance of humanity in medicine and the danger of losing our capacity to have valuable and true human connections. Undeterred by the warnings from my mother who is a nurse and therefore all too familiar with the dysfunction of the health care system, I pursued a career in medicine because I consider it to be one of the most privileged professions. Not because of the academic prestige or the potential reimbursement but for the corporal, intense and deeply personal relationships that physicians have with patients.
My first real encounter with the ugly side of medicine was in college when I volunteered in a nursing home. Despite my attempts to mentally prepare myself for visits at the Erwin Gardens, every week I would find myself aghast of the poorly lit rooms, dirty floors and slight odor of urine that filled the air. Mrs. J was a Medicaid patient with little to no control over the quality of her care. Three times a week she would awake at 4 a.m. to be taken to the hospital for dialysis only to return hours later, face sunken and stomach growling with no one who really cared. My visits with Mrs. J were part of a service-in-learning course on Death and Dying but the interactions that I experienced at her nursing home exposed me to much more than the dubious and gradual process of dying. It was apparent to me that my spirited conversations with Mrs. J were a weak anesthetic to the constant sting of the poor quality of life, depression and lack of options that plagued her mind.
Patients like Mrs. J have been salient examples of the complex ethical dilemmas that confront physicians and our health care system every day. My experiences with her put a human face on the issues surrounding end of life care, insurance, medical costs, quality of life and health disparities. Mrs. J poignantly reminded me that physicians are demanded to work in an environment that ethically challenges them both as professionals and individuals. The emergency room is a place where many of these issues are highlighted as physicians struggle to care for patients who are underserved or unable access care efficiently through other venues.
My philosophy of practice is deeply impacted by my clinical and educational background. I completed a masters in bioethics in medical school because it was essential for me to practice medicine with a constant awareness of patients as individuals and not illnesses. I am participating in the Who’s My Doctor campaign because it is important that patients know that I accept no money from drug companies or device companies. I am not making money from ordering more tests or pushing you as a patient to make certain medical decisions. I understand that I am a stranger with whom your share the most personal information and I consider this a privilege.
I see the need for physicians to serve as patient advocates. I have also witnessed the increasing demand for considerate and professional physicians whose integrity and dedication can withstand the turbulent changes that continue to confront health care in this country and around the world. I hope to utilize my unique background by serving as a competent and skilled practicing physician who also participates in changing policy to make our health care system one that better serves patients and reinvigorates our focus on comprehensive, preventive and compassionate care. Mrs. J would expect nothing less than my most valiant attempt to ameliorate the health care system that failed her in so many ways. I am constantly striving to make her proud.
Please join us in the joint patient-provider partnership for transparency.