Blog | Friday, June 29, 2012

Should medical administrators still care for patients?


I have been relatively absent from social media for the past week or so. I have been doing inpatient duties on a general medicine service, and really enjoy working with medical students, interns, residents, pharmacists, and inpatient floor nurses. It has been a wonderful opportunity to experience the day-to-day activities involved in hospital medicine, and of course, to see and care for patients.

The time on the inpatient service is demanding, both physically and emotionally. Managing ill patients, long hours caring for complex patients and updating their families leave little time for my other duties in overseeing a CME office and a residency program. I am trying my best to juggle all of these duties, but for now, the patient care priorities do come first.

As I was arriving one day this week, I saw the chair of another department coming in, and mentioned that I was on service doing inpatient work. He remarked: "So good to hear that you are continuing this great work, and that you are still actively involved in patient care. Keep it up!" That made my day.

So I have been pondering this: should physicians who have major administrative duties and oversee programs, and thus have major time devoted to such activities, still care for patients? Should they still remain clinically active in order to have "street credibility" with their mostly clinical colleagues?

I think the answer to this is "yes." As busy as it is, I still believe that it keeps me fresh. It allows me the opportunity to reflect on why I went into medicine in the first place. It allows me to still remember what it is like to talk with a worried family member about a loved one, to see the gradual changes when a patient improves from hospital admission to discharge. It allows me to also see the trainees doing what we want them to do: learn to care for patients.

The more I become involved in overseeing administrative programs, the less time I can devote to direct patient care. But I still really enjoy doing the day-to-day patient care, and working with trainees as they learn the art and science of medicine. I still haven't forgotten the old adage by Francis Peabody: "The secret in the care of the patient is in caring for the patient."

Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. This post originally appeared at Mired in MedEd, where he blogs about medical education.