There are small moments of reflection that pop up in any given day. Something at home affecting us at work or vice versa. Like a Venn diagram, the two circles overlap by just that slight amount at the center. One such recent intersection for me occurred during an unexpected moment — the mundane household task of doing laundry.
It was a weekend, of course, or I wouldn’t have been home. I loaded the dirty clothes into the washer and reached up to the shelf for the detergent, when something new drew my focus; something that didn’t belong. A sentence, written on the front of the washing machine, in one of our kids’ handwriting, right next to the dial in permanent Sharpie pen.
My first reaction, as a parent, was not a happy one. (Dare I admit here this is not the first place in our house to fall victim to the Sharpie marker…?)
Then I peered closer, and read the words.
“Remember the soap.”
My irritation dissipated, and a smile played across my face. In those three words, an entire story is told.
I didn’t try to remove the writing, and it remains on the washer, to bring back a smile whenever I see it.
We embark this month on a new year, and it occurred to me today as I did the laundry, this little sentence reminds us of several important things in life. Here are a few: Remember the basics of your task. Don’t skip the first step. And even, perhaps, it’s okay to write yourself a reminder (although I might suggest using the memo function on your smartphone rather than the Sharpie pen technique favored by my children).
I thought about how we might use this humble sentence as physicians. Here is what I came up with:
- Remember the patient. There are few challenges in practice that cannot be solved by following this charge. (Please note, this means first and foremost that we practice patient-centered care, not insurance-centered care. See also #3).
- Remember yourself. How many articles about physician burnout were published in 2018? Two of my favorites are these: 1 & 2.
- Remember the prior authorization. Although you might like to forget… But the reality is, the year 2018 saw an unprecedented rise in the need for the “prior authorization” to accomplish any care for our patients. We, the physicians, need to continue to speak up about the delays in care and, in some cases, actual harm, these unnecessarily burdensome regulatory steps can cause.
- Remember the profession. Medicine is not just a job, it’s a profession; and I say, still a noble one.
- Remember the art. Medicine remains as much an art as a science. Let 2019 be the year you renew your inner "Art of Medicine."
- Remember the mystery. Medicine is not cookie-cutter science. The longer I practice, the more I see things I cannot explain. Be open to the mystery. It’s what makes us — and keeps us — human. I recommend this blog post by Rachel Naomi Remen.
In summary, if you will allow me to stretch the laundry metaphor just a bit further (because who doesn’t love a good metaphor...) — medicine without any one of these six things (with the exception of #3), is like doing the load of laundry without the soap. At first glance, it might look the same, but one whiff and we know the difference.
Dr. Jennifer Lycette, MD is a medical oncologist in community practice for 11 years. She works and resides on the North Oregon Coast, where she lives with her husband and 3 children. Her personal blog, The Hopeful Cancer Doc, includes her writings on practicing oncology, maintaining hope in medicine, work-life balance, and various other musings.