The profession of medicine, whether practiced by a physician, nurse, medical assistant, or other healthcare professional, is inherently meaningful. A medical or health-related career usually requires several years of education to achieve competence, and, in many cases, it is a career that a person selects for all of their working years. Healthcare professionals can justifiably find pride in their achievements.
Medical professionals do not enter their field of study with the expectation that they will have to compromise their professional behavior. However, it has become increasingly difficult to provide the level of care and concern for patients given the elements of increased documentation and sicker patients staying fewer days in a hospital to recover from illness or surgery. In some cases, very ill patients are being seen in medical offices, emergency room settings, or clinics because they do not have insurance to pay for a hospital stay.
In today’s world of specialization, patients may have several physicians managing their care. This can result in the patient’s spending less time with any one medical professional. In fact, many patients feel that the care they receive has become depersonalized as they never get to know any one caregiver very well. The reverse is also true, as medical professionals become frustrated that they do not have enough time to really get to know and understand their patients.
The case of Libby Zion illustrates this point. Libby was an 18-year-old college student who was treated in a large, busy New York teaching hospital. She entered the hospital’s emergency room with moderate aches and pains suggesting influenza. Libby also exhibited agitated behavior but did not tell the emergency room physician that she used drugs. She was given a sedating medication as well as physical restraints to control her agitated movements. Libby died eight hours after she was admitted. Her parents and several journalists investigated the competence and amount of time spent by the medical personnel who cared for Libby. They also examined information about the long hours that interns and residents work in a teaching hospital. The results of the parents’ crusade, media coverage, and a resulting court case meant that there is now a closer look at accountability and supervision in teaching hospitals. Interns and residents now have mandatory rest periods and days off work as a result of the Libby Zion case. More than 25 years after Libby’s death, her legacy lives on in the important changes made in the care of patients.
Professionalism means that each healthcare professional will monitor the time and care that each patient receives so that the care is effective, as well as efficient. It means that we treat all patients with the same standards regardless of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. This responsibility should not be left to others.
Efficiency is getting the job done; effectiveness is doing the right job! This is especially true in healthcare.
DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE
In spite of knowledge about good healthcare habits, people working in the healthcare field often suffer from many of the same problems that affect their patients. For example, overweight nurses, medical assistants, and other healthcare professionals may experience discriminatory behavior due to their weight. In some cases, overweight or obese health-care professionals are either not hired or else they are placed in an unpopular work setting where they will not be seen or promoted. It is an injustice to discriminate against either a fellow employee or a patient because of their weight.
Some companies and hospital have implemented wellness programs, including weight loss, with the belief that healthy employees are more productive. Ethical concerns about privacy issues arise even from well-meaning wellness programs when electronic data records are kept to track the employee’s weight loss.