With paychecks shrinking and growing student debtloads, many say medicine isn’t a good field to get into. Zuckerman explains why it’s still worth it.
Question: Why should someone become a doctor today?
Joseph Zuckerman: I'll speak personally now. It would always bother me in the last few years as practicing medicine has become more bureaucratic, more difficult, more red tape, more paperwork and such, and maybe not as financially rewarding as it used to be in the past because things have changed. When I hear a colleague say, "I would never tell my son or daughter to go do medical school now. It's just too hard; it's not what it used to be." Well, I don't want to seem too Pollyanna-ish here, but I think being a physician is one of the greatest things you can do.
I have a son who is a second-year medical student at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and when he told me he thought about going to medical school, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world, I encouraged him to do it. He could do whatever he wanted to, but would I ever discourage them from ever being a physician? No, I never would. Because all these other things, notwithstanding, everything we hear about from the time you walk into the examining room to talk to the patient to the time you leave, that is an opportunity to be valued and cherished. Right? Because the relationship you develop with the patient is very powerful, is very meaningful. The people who should be physicians should recognize the power of that relationship and that interaction. If you do that then we would never even think about discouraging somebody from being a physician.
Question: What trends concern you in your field?
Joseph Zuckerman: I think the trends that concern me in orthopedics are probably those that applied to medicine in general. Because of the changing nature of healthcare you have to see so many patients, more patients than before, in order to basically balance the books of your practices and things that it takes away from each and one of those interactions. Each one of those individual interactions, and I think there is something that is lost there.
There is a tendency for surgeons to be seen only as procedurists; operate, take care of them and then were finished. Right? It's great to be able to operate and improve someone's quality of life like we do, but it is the interactions that I think are important. I'll see 30 to 35 patients in the day and it's a long day. But when somebody tells me they see 60, 70, or 80 patients in a day I say, boy, I mean, that's difficult to do in a meaningful way. So that concerns me when I hear that.
Question: What does it take to be a top surgeon?
Joseph Zuckerman: I think that a lot of it is, talent, but character is a very important thing. Now let me take you about professionalism in medicine. We can teach individuals we have one of the largest residency programs in the country; 12 residents a year, 62 orthopedic residents in a five-year program. Almost without exception, we can train them to know what they need to know to be an orthopedic surgeon, learn how to operate and the important procedures in orthopedic surgery, and we can even teach them a little bit how to interact with patients; however, you can't teach them to have the ethics and the professionalism necessary to be a physician. They need to come to us with the ethics, and their parents have to do that, and we layer on to that the professionalism of being in orthopedic surgeon. You can be as talented as anybody but if you don't have the professionalism, the interactions with patients, the ability to understand what you're doing and how to care for a patient and how to interact with patients, then he you've not fulfilled the responsibilities you have of being a physician.
Question: What advice do you have for the next generation of doctors?
Joseph Zuckerman: My advice is that you should always recognize what it is that attracted you to being a physician. And what I think should have attracted you to being a physician, surgeon, or an internist or any other medical specialty, which should have attracted you is the ability to make patients better. To interact with patients and to take somebody who is ill and make them better, somebody that can't do what they need to do and help them to do what they need to do. That's a very powerful thing. And the next generation of physicians should see the power in that and the attraction of it because when all is said and done it's a very satisfying part of being a physician. And with all the difficulties we have with the bureaucracy and managing practices in healthcare reform, that's a constant in this, the relationship you have with your patients. And I think that goes a long way to making for a very satisfied physician for many years.