Medicine As Ministry, Not Industry
As an old “country” doctor (don’t mind that creaking noise, it’s just the rocking chair or maybe my joints), I have been saddened by the turn that traditional medicine has taken in the recent past. It seems that most young doctors today are becoming employees of large medical corporations. Instead of hanging up that shingle and really getting to know their patients, they have opted for the comfort of the corporate womb; they are assigned to a hospital or clinic, put in their 40 hours and let the next shift worry about how that post-op patient is doing. If one of their patients is in dire straits financially, they just ship them to the payables department with the disclaimer, “Sorry, I don’t have anything to do with that”.
Our medical system is turning our medical students into drones, and making a generation of intelligent and mostly altruistic healthcare providers into cogs of a huge machine. A well-oiled one, perhaps, but still a machine.
Not that I begrudge the young physicians of today a life. I remember the day when, as a resident, two of us were marched to the emergency room.
The chief of the department said, “Ok, you two are in charge
of the ER for the next six weeks. Divvy up your schedule however you want.”
I replied, “Umm, there’s only two of us..”
I ended up doing 12 hour shifts every weekday, took Saturday off and worked 24 hours straight on
Sunday (36 hours if you count Monday’s 12 hour shift). So I understand that doctors today want
to live a normal life. Many physicians today are women, and they want to have children and put together a normal home life for their family. Most doctors aren’t given much training in running a practice, either, so it’s a lot easier to have a corporate financial department run it for you.
Despite this, there are still other options: Dr. Susan Rutten Wasson of Osakis, Minn. has figured out another way. Dr. Rutten Wasson is a throwback to the days before corporations took over the medical landscape. She visits patients at home and charges a reasonable fee. She’ll see you the same day if she isn’t already seeing someone else. She doesn’t accept any insurance but isn’t above taking eggs or the occasional pie as her gratuity. She hasn’t raised her fees, even as medicine itself has become more costly, and works out of a converted gas station for an office.
She didn’t start off this way. She worked in a trauma center in St. Paul, and decided after a while that it wasn’t who she was. Now she treats people in rural Minnesota, Amish farmers or Latin migrant workers who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to mainstream medical centers. She homesteads and lives a simple life. She won’t be buying a Porsche anytime soon, but it’s not her priority. Her patients are.
Her practice is a statement: Medicine is a ministry, not an industry. That’s the lesson I learned, many years ago. It’s a lesson that young doctors, and organized medicine itself, would benefit from.