I want to wish my colleagues across the country, and especially the amazing physicians at St. Luke’s, a very special and happy Doctors Day.
It is appropriate that we pause each year to express our gratitude to physicians, because they do so much more than most of us see during an office or hospital visit. Physicians have sacrificed a lot to become physicians. The education and training are grueling. Medical school and residency training don’t leave a lot of time for other relationships or personal time to unwind.
Most of the physicians that I know have their variant of this: My wife, Lynette, and I had our first child a month after I graduated from medical school and two weeks before I started my residency. I can remember staying up for 30 or more hours treating patients and responding to emergencies, then driving home, trying not to fall asleep behind the wheel, and Lynette handing me our daughter when I walked in the door because it was my turn.
Physicians work long hours and take call, being awakened in the middle of the night when they have to work the next day. They also rotate taking calls on weekends and holidays – times when others often are off work and get to relax and spend time with family and friends. This career means missing children’s school and athletic events – or as once happened to me, missing Lynette’s and my anniversary party.
I look back, and despite the grueling pressures, the long hours and the never-ending paper work (and now, computer work), I’m still most struck by what an amazing privilege, honor and opportunity it has been to be a physician.
The vast majority of us went into medicine for the right reasons and knew the commitment and long hours it would take, but to know that people trusted me with their lives and with their very personal and private information, to know that I caught certain illnesses in time to prevent a complication or even death, to know that I made someone feel better and eased their pain and to know that, even in the cases where I was powerless to alter the outcome of an illness, I was still able to bring peace to that patient and/or their family, is incredibly meaningful and gratifying to me.
Our St. Luke’s physicians are very caring and they know that they are making a difference in people’s lives. I see that caring, when they take extra time to answer a patient’s questions, hold the hand of a patient who is frightened or has received concerning news, sit down on a patient’s bed to explain a procedure – and I feel so grateful that not only has St. Luke’s attracted extremely skilled and talented physicians, but very compassionate ones.
It is harder to practice medicine today than when I was in practice. There are so many rules and regulations and they are changing every day. There is an explosion of medical knowledge, and it takes a lot of reading in nearly non-existent “off” time for physicians to keep up with everything in their areas of practice. Most physicians have in recent years had to switch from paper records to computer systems, which has brought a new layer of complexity to the work. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future as health care goes through an unprecedented pace of change. No wonder there are reports that more than half of physicians are “burned out.”
I acknowledge all of these pressures, and I am so proud of St. Luke’s physicians for continuing to deliver such high-quality, compassionate care even as we face these challenges.
We have been bold and set out to become a national leader in quality and safety, and we have accomplished that. We now are focused on reducing health-care costs and making health care more affordable for Idahoans. This involves major change, and our physicians have led the way.
Whether you are a clinic physician, hospitalist, physician providing virtual care, medical director, an emergency room or urgent care physician, surgeon or physician behind the scenes, such as our pathologists, radiologists or anesthesiologists, I wish you a very happy Doctors Day and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am grateful for your commitment, your dedication, your skills and your caring. You are amazing, and I feel so privileged to get to work with you.
David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.