The House of Medicine has been abundantly blessed
■ A message to all physicians from AMA President William G. Plested III, MD.
By William G. Plested III, MD — is a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon from Brentwood, Calif. He served as AMA board chair during 2003-04, and as AMA president during 2006-07. Posted Dec. 18, 2006.
As I am writing this column, Thanksgiving is upon us, and by the time it is in print, Christmas will be near. I truly love these holidays and the spirit that accompanies our celebration of them. This is a perfect time for us to pause and focus upon our blessings rather than the problems that confront us. As physicians we have a multitude of blessings for which to be thankful.
We often focus upon the rigors that we endured during our seemingly endless years of training, long hours and lifetime commitment to learning. But the ability to bring comfort to and relieve the suffering of our fellow humans is a precious gift -- a gift that we must never forget nor allow to be diminished.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in New Orleans and spent several hours with a past AMA president, Donald J. Palmisano, MD, touring the devastation that persists as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
I found that I personally had succumbed to the habit, fostered by our information-overloaded society, of exhaustion with a topic or event that makes us consider it solved and to move on to the next titillating issue.
I really believed that New Orleans was making great strides in rebuilding and that the terrible crises were past.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The physical and structural damage is still overwhelming.
Of special interest to me, however, is the plight of physicians, nurses and all health workers. The heroic efforts of these dedicated people during the initial hours and days after the storm have been well chronicled.
What I did not realize is the dangerously critical condition of the health care delivery system today. One physician remarked that he often hears about the progress of rebuilding, but his ongoing reality is one of continuing crisis with little hope in sight.
Physicians there have essentially no infrastructure in which to work and are overwhelmed with patients who have lost everything and have absolutely no ability to pay for their desperately needed care. Entire hospitals have been closed, and many patients continue to get care in makeshift surroundings.
We are all aware of the reports of the millions of dollars that are being spent to repair and rebuild; however, a constant refrain from everyone with whom I came in contact is that the local people don't understand where all the money has gone.
What is crystal clear is the heroism of the physicians and others who are continuing to respond to the needs of the patients of New Orleans.
I have not had the opportunity to visit Mississippi. But from all reports, physicians and their teams of health care workers were equally dedicated and heroically responsive to the needs of patients in those devastated areas. Truly all of us must give thanks for these special people who so perfectly exhibit the highest principles of our profession.
I always tell young people contemplating a career in health care that, as a physician, one often sees elderly patients who become depressed when they do an introspective review of their lives. In spite of being financially successful or popular, they wonder if their life really mattered.
I assure students that after a lifetime as a doctor, nurse, physician assistant or other health care professional, they never will have that problem.
The ability to help others when they are in pain or when their lives are in crisis is truly special and always will be precious.
As I think back on my own life and practice, I can't help but be immensely thankful for the opportunity I have had to be a physician.
What is most spectacular is the phenomenal progress that has been made in our profession during my short practice lifetime -- all as a result of the tireless efforts of dedicated physician scientists and innovators.
In fact, medicine has been so successful that we actually have caused what many today refer to as a crisis in health care.
At a time when we had precious little to offer and a patient's life expectancy was just beyond 65 years, both government and employers promised free health care for life.
The so-called crisis is simply that we have so many miracles to offer, and the fastest-growing segment of our population is the older-than-85 age group.
Now the same government and employers do not want to pay for today's health care but want to be responsible only for the costs that existed half a century ago.
As we all gather with family, loved ones and friends over these holidays, I hope that we all remember to give thanks for all of the special blessings that have been given to all who are a part of the House of Medicine. The first line of one of my favorite holiday hymns begins, "Bless this house, O Lord we pray." Every time I hear this beautiful song, I am reminded that our House of Medicine truly has been blessed.
I send each of you my most special good wishes for a happy holiday season and for a safe, productive and enjoyable new year.
William G. Plested III, MD is a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon from Brentwood, Calif. He served as AMA board chair during 2003-04, and as AMA president during 2006-07.