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ASCO 2024: What's to Come

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

It has become a truism that medicine is experiencing a crisis of burnout.

Two years ago, in part to address this urgent issue, Henry Bair (now an intern in ophthalmology) and I started a podcast: "The Doctor's Art."

Since then, we have published more than 100 hours of in-depth conversations with a wide range of experts from multiple fields, some directly medical and some not: doctors, nurses, authors, journalists, patients, caregivers, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, and others. All of this has been in service of trying to understand what has gone wrong with medicine and how we can fix it.

To be clear, multiple sources and several foundational changes to the practice of medicine contribute to the burnout crisis. These include transformations of the business, payment, control, and technology of medicine. We recognize that many of these changes demand either collective action and lobbying or lie beyond our direct control. 

Still, our dozens of hours of conversation and investigation suggest to us that there may also be changes we can make that will make a difference in this sphere. Specifically, we believe that in addition to the above changes and sometimes as a result of them we have collectively (and sometimes unknowingly) changed the philosophy with which we approach our patients. These philosophical changes do not offer the entire explanation, but they matter in part because my philosophical approach to medicine remains, at least to some degree, under my control. Indeed, personal moral and medical philosophy stands strikingly apart from the other things on the list of what is causing change, in that something as simple as listening to a lecture or reading a book can catalyze the epiphany needed to open up a space for such change.

In this spirit, we are introducing a new type of educational experience this year at ASCO. In the past, we have had manifold ways to gain inspiration indirectly, from the resilience of our patients, the dedication and intelligence of our colleagues, and the importance of new evidence. Likewise, the ASCO Voices series has offered personal accounts of experiences gained as a patient, caregiver, or physician.

But this session will stand apart from all of these in that the speakers will be addressing this foundational question: How can I change the way I approach my patients and my practice to re-infuse meaning and beauty into what I do every day?

The speakers will include Dr. Sunita Puri a palliative care doctor, program director, and associate professor at the UMass Chan School of Medicine and author of the memoir "That Good Night"; Jay Wellons, Chief, Chair, and Professor of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Vanderbilt University and author of "All That Moves Us"; and Tyler Johnson, Senior Associate Program Director and Clinical Associate Professor of Oncology at Stanford School of Medicine and co-host of "The Doctor's Art."

Our hope is that those who attend the session will leave not only with a renewed sense of wonder and inspiration, but also with practical tools to reorient their personal practice so as to infuse a sense of mystery and meaning back into their approach to medicine. We hope this session will tend to the wounds of the heat that can accrue over a long career of caring for patients who are often in desperate need. In so doing, we see this session as a specific treatment for and prophylactic to worsening burnout and hope that this session will be the rare one that directly treats those who will then go out to treat patients with cancer. 

Dr. Tyler Johnson is an assistant clinical professor at Stanford Health Care.

Image by Paper Trident / GettyImages

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