Doc, We Feel Your Pain

Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Since its inception, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and its supporters have compared teaching and medicine. It used to be that anyone could claim the title of doctor: there were no standards, no licenses, no certified body of knowledge and expertise. The contemporary model for the medical profession, involving a greater degree of selectivity to enter, a considerable period of academic study, extended training and high standards of practice all came about when medical practitioners took control of their work and made it professional. We need to take similar step to elevate the teaching profession.

When we teachers have talked about the benefits of board certification and made reference to doctors, we have generally assumed that the public holds doctors in higher esteem, and that the benefits of professionalizing practice included greater control over working conditions, which would lead to higher job satisfaction.

At family gatherings over the years, or by email, or on Facebook, I’ve made some of those comparisons myself. My friends and family are quite sympathetic towards teachers – no surprise there – but several physicians in my family have also told me that the medical profession is facing many of the same types of challenges as public education these days.

So I wasn’t exactly shocked to see this article recently shared by a physician in the family: How Being a Doctor Became the Most Miserable Profession (Daniela Drake, The Daily Beast).

The article is worth reading, because we all want good health care and skilled health care providers of course. But also, see how many of these quotations you think could also be applicable to teachers and students, classrooms and public education. Are the same dynamics at work?

  • …the level of sheer unhappiness amongst physicians is on the rise.
  • Indeed, many doctors feel that America has declared war on physicians—and both physicians and patients are the losers.
  • …to fix the healthcare crisis, the public needs to understand what it’s like to be a physician. Imagine, for things to get better for patients, they need to empathize with physicians—that’s a tall order in our noxious and decidedly un-empathetic times.
  • To make ends meet, physicians have had to increase the number of patients they see.
  • … physicians have to go along, constantly trying to improve their “productivity” and patient satisfaction scores—or risk losing their jobs. Industry leaders are fixated on patient satisfaction, despite the fact that high scores are correlated with worse outcomes and higher costs. Indeed, trying to please whatever patient comes along destroys the integrity of our work.
  • Every decision carries with it an implied threat of malpractice litigation. Failing to attend to these things brings prompt disciplining or patient complaint. And mercilessly, all of these tasks have to be done on the exhausted doctor’s personal time.
  • … the response of medical leadership—their solution— is to call for more physician testing. In fact, the American Board of Internal Medicine(ABIM)—in its own act of hostage-taking—has decided that in addition to being tested every ten years, doctors must comply with new, costly, “two year milestones.”
  • It is tone deaf. It is punitive. It is wrong. And practicing doctors can’t do a damn thing about it.
  • … the relentlessly negative press coverage of physicians sets the tone. “There’s a media narrative that blames physicians for things the doctor has no control over,” says Kevin Pho, M.D.
  • The meme is that doctors are getting away with something and need constant training, watching and regulating. With this in mind, it’s almost a reflex for policy makers to pile on the regulations.

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