5 lessons learned in 30 years of practice
As I reflected on the passing of 2013, I realized that 2014 will mark the 30th year I have practiced medicine. In all that time wearing a stethoscope, albeit figuratively, since I am a dermatologic surgeon, I have learned a lot about medicine, patients and, most of all, myself. And so, in the first blush of the new year, I'd like to share with you five important things I have learned in the past 30 years.
• First, hang in there. In my career, I have seen the unthinkable. Lethal diseases such as HIV, which was just making its appearance on the scene back in 1984, have been turned in many cases into a chronic conditions. The same goes for a whole host of cancers.
Two years ago, most unthinkably, therapies for metastatic melanoma sprang onto the scene, which drastically changed the survival statistics. My point: no matter which disease you've got, hang in there as long as you can. Help may be just around the corner.
• Second, turn off your television. I am fortunate to have many of Brevard's oldest citizens as patients, and I am able to pick their brains. Are they happy? Depressed? Fulfilled? There are no absolute truths, but the common denominators for the happy older patients are there: they are connected to others, they work very hard to maintain their mobility, which means keeping their legs strong, and they spend more time with others, both family and friends. They don't watch a lot of television.
• Third, teamwork breeds success. I'm not talking about teamwork between the doctors, nurses and administrators. I am referring to teamwork with you and your health care provider.
The very best outcomes are the result of active participation on the part of the patient as well as the health care team. Diabetes? Skin cancer? Heart disease? With virtually any disease, the outcomes are improved by a careful, dedicated contribution by the patient.
• Fourth, physicians do a wonderful job of keeping you alive, but not necessarily in helping you die. We are all going to pass away, without any exception, and yet we, as doctors, have not been able to figure out when it's time to stop fighting and time to start giving you the best final days of your life. We hate the idea of "giving up."
Also, we as physicians are conditioned to care for you and so we have a great emotional barrier against advising you to accept the inevitable. When you die, a little part of us dies, too. I have learned, though, there are many things that are worse than death.
• Finally, I get as much from you as you do from me. You are my family, my friends and my baby birds, all rolled into one. My helping you through your trials and tribulations and making you stronger and healthier makes me happy. It lends meaning to my life and my career and makes my profession anything but a job.
Dr. Larry Bishop is a board-certified dermatologist with Health First Medical Group, practicing in Brevard County since 1995.