Who's the Person in the White Coat?
Written By: Ivette Bugarini & Edited By: Paris Blanco
In the course of our lives, we have interacted with many physicians wearing the well-recognized white coats. Since birth, we have countless interactions with physicians; from pediatricians to family doctors, orthopedists and dermatologists. Physicians are responsible for our routine medical care but sometimes are tasked with giving us difficult diagnoses that can change the outcomes of our entire lives.
Alternatively, physicians can also provide hope and positive results after treatment, cure, or rehabilitation. We may sometimes forget about the physician being a human being beyond the white coat. As the focus is on our own livelihoods, we likely rarely imagine them outside of their work environment. However, these people have personal lives with the same complexity as anyone else. They are parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends. They face the same challenges in life as any of us and undertake all of this while practicing medicine.
In the United States there are 1,073,616 practicing physicians by 2022; an average of approximately 300 patients per doctor. Only 0.29% of the U.S. population chooses to practice medicine. There is presently a shortage of physicians across the country and this has a tremendous impact on communities access healthcare.
Medicine is a profession where the heart comes first. Many personal sacrifices are required and priorities changed to follow a very specific dream. This dream that they follow with so much passion is to be able to alleviate pain and improve the quality of life of patients. They hold their patient’s health and well-being above their own. However, this aspiration also brings with it great responsibility, sleepless nights, poor physical health, social isolation, and anxiety regarding patient outcomes. How do the physicians cope with this level of responsibility, the death of a patient or departmentalizing their emotions on a daily basis? These are difficult questions to answer and hard to imagine how a single individual can take on all of this. The emotional toll it must take on a person when their actions can impact entire families and yet they must continue on as if nothing has happened.
It may not be surprising that there is a significant increase in physician work stress and burnout. A study was conducted by researchers from the American Medical Association at The Mayo Clinic, Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The researchers determined that 62.8% of physicians had at least one manifestation of burnout in 2021. We are also losing about 300 doctors a year to suicide; this is akin to mourning a physicians’ death nearly every day of the year. Numbers may not translate but if you consider their names, the ages of their children and the towns that they come from; perhaps this number will create a more imaginable picture of the impact. Great change comes from acknowledging these uncomfortable truths. There is still so much to learn and a lot to accomplish before the mental health status of physicians can improve. These issues need to be talked about and addressed much more frequently and openly than they currently are.
As a medical resident's wife I see things from a different perspective; I see beyond their identity of a health care provider. These individuals sacrifice so much of themselves and pursue the knowledge of medicine with love, passion and pure determination. It was out of this perspective of physicians in training that the Residents Auxiliary was created over a decade ago. The wife of a resident recognized the need to provide personalized support to residents/fellows and their families during their training years. She recognized that residents are often displaced away from their support network, friends, family and begin an incredibly stressful time in their lives. They often feel socially disconnected and experience the financial burden of medical school and any additional training required to become a physician. Presently, the Resident Auxiliary is continuing the legacy that has undoubtedly helped many families to have a support network and to have a smooth transition as they relocate to Danville, Pennsylvania. Residents Auxiliary has transformed from the originally informal meetings to recently becoming a non-profit organization in order to provide better support to our residents.
Residents Auxiliary provides the opportunity to create connections, build a support network and form safe spaces where they can interact with colleagues and supporters outside of the hospital setting.
Being part of a community helps reduce stress and burnout levels. We provide residents and their families with tools to make their transition easier. Our website has a Real Estate section to search for a home for the next few years, information on local resources, events and local business promotion. Our social media platforms exhibit a space where they can interact with other members of our community. These resources help to welcome everyone to the area and feel part of the community as soon as they arrive.Currently, year after year, more than 300 residents/fellows and their families arrive in the Danville area. They need support during the highs and lows during their training and after as they transition into practice. As partners and spouses of residents, we witness the selfless commitment that they have to this specific community, often forgetting about their personal well-being. Free time is limited, emotional disconnection is difficult and a safe space to share these challenges is completely necessary.The people who work for the Residents Auxiliary are spouses and partners of residents/fellows or attendings who work at Geisinger Health System. We work as volunteers with no salary and no motivation for compensation. We donate our time so that they feel seen and heard and to recognize their hard work and give them all of the support we can. We cannot wait to see all of the great things and changes we can do in collaboration with the local community.