Similar to the previous day, I found myself incredibly moved by the film presented regarding Michael Skolnik’s experience and subsequent death. While I was shocked to learn of the neurosurgeon’s actions and attitude during the whole ordeal and resulting consequences, I was truly surprised by the number of conference participants who could identify an instance when they had encountered or interacted with a similar physician. It seems like common sense that in a field dedicated to improving people’s health, all of the members in the profession would require basic traits such as compassion and empathy to succeed. Yet, I am instead hearing of countless examples where the opposite is true, and it leaves me dumbfounded.
The paternalistic model of patient-doctor communication has allowed the past generation of physicians to build an exaggerated sense of self-worth and importance, given the authority to quite literally dictate the lives of their patients with no resistance. Now, we have fortunately realized the harms of such a practice and moved towards a more deliberate model, incorporating and prioritizing the patient’s values in deciding their care. Unfortunately, it seems as though most of the older physicians have maintained their previously commonplace ego, resulting in disjointed practice and leaving open the window for avoidable medical errors to occur. This gap is progressively widening because these physicians continue to be in leadership positions, likely unknowingly forcing their subordinates and students to follow their example and continue this outdated method of practice.
Thus, a movement must be made, and I realize AELPS and Telluride participants and faculty have initiated it. My peers and I have been given an amazing opportunity here to not only be inspired to spread awareness in our individual institutions on the importance of considering patient safety in everyday practice, but we have also been given the valuable chance to form a diverse and strong network of peers with the same mindset spanning across the country. Each participant here has come to this conference with a common goal: to combat the negative attitudes and actions of medical professionals that seem to be pervasive in the field. While being compassionate to both patients and fellow staff may seem obvious to us, we unfortunately are still a “movement,” and we must use the provided skills and advice to truly make a lasting impact.
If we persevere, using data and stories to appeal to our peers, finding senior staff to be our allies, and remain enthusiastic, soon our movement will be the common mentality. As our network grows and we become the next leaders of the medical field, a new norm will be established. We will no longer rush our patients through their informed consent; we will no longer demean our peers in other specialties if they provide a second opinion; and we will no longer discount the importance of a conversation with patients and their family members again. The disconnect between physician attitudes and acceptable and effective care will disappear, closing the gap on any opportunity to lose more Lewis Blackmans and Michael Skolniks of the world.