"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
An Uncommon Guest Post by Bjorn Karlman a Swede with an American accent, an Asian childhood, a British adolescence, French and American tertiary education and international work experience spread across three continents. He speaks four languages and blogs at CultureMutt.com.
“I hate that my pay and my whole family’s standard of living is tied to my working crazy hours and then being on call. If I stop doing this day in and day out, we’re screwed.”
“How can I escape my self-made prison?”
“Why did I choose to become a physician?”
“I want out!”
We’ve all heard the above sentiments repeated ad nauseum by physicians. The news gets even worse for medical students. There has never been a bleaker time to graduate from med school. The economy is still in the tank. Reimbursement is dropping and is going to go down further with Obamacare. Physicians all over the country are shuttering in their private clinics and downsizing their homes.
I asked a physician friend from Hong Kong who practices in Northern California if he planned on encouraging his kids to become doctors. “Hell no!” he exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation. I work in health care philanthropy and am forever hearing the exasperation of the physicians around me and the gloominess they feel about the future of their profession.
Time to reframe
I really think it is time to look at this whole narrative differently. I am not going to promise hope and change because I am not running for office:) But I do think that it is time for some innovative, international, solution-focused tinkering. It was downright refreshing to poke around in the “About” section of Uncommon Student MD and see that this online medical community is “not interested in the useless hand-wringing that populates so much of medicine and that so many physicians have bought in to.”
Savvy, global do-gooding
I write the blog CultureMutt.com and am obsessed with what I call “savvy, global do-gooding”. I am absolutely convinced that a laser-sharp focus on understanding the culture of various people groups through international travel and service lies at the heart of helping to solve our collective problems. I think it could really benefit the American medical community. A broken culture drives the negativity in American medicine. The future craves a more culturally-savvy, international approach to medicine. I realize that this is a broad statement to make.
Allow me to focus it a little by outlining four ways we can put smiles back on some faces through “global” thinking:
1) International Sleuthing Trips - As much as it is true that America still is home to some of the most advanced medicine in the world, other developed countries often have a far better handle on actual health care delivery. To learn efficiencies and to learn how to do more with less, American medicine should not indulge in further navel gazing. It is time to give more thought to other models of health care internationally. We should aggressively fund more international study trips to examine global best practice in everything from direct treatment to preventative care and lifestyle medicine. The goal here is not some flimsy “experience”. It is to learn how to deliver better health care at less cost.... and travel the world!
2) International Socialization - I remember the day one frustrated health care exec told me that she believed the emotional maturation process of future physicians ended the day they began their pre med studies. That is a little harsh. But seriously, I work with a lot of physicians and many are very socially awkward. Long work hours and little play reinforce this problem. International travel and study on the other hand, are incredibly broadening. International service work should be mandatory for med students. Especially, for the really nerdy ones. We love you but it’s a quality of life thing - for them and everyone that has to endure them!
3) Red Carpet Medicine - Medical tourism is on the rise. What am I talking about? Well, Brits are going to France, Western Europeans are going to the former Eastern Bloc, Americans are going to Australia and Mexico, etc. Why? Financial reasons. There are top-notch medical clinics especially set up for this kind of medical tourism. They cost less than home and it’s a hell of a lot more fun to go to southern France for treatment than Jersey. I am talking about boutique medicine. Enterprising med students should be visiting some of these clinics for business concept harvesting purposes. Why not make the transition to high-end boutique-style medicine catering to wealthy clients in the US? My aunt works at just this kind of a practice in the Napa area. Very lucrative and based on a smart business model that doesn’t run physicians ragged. Do your market research! Success in medicine is more than just science. It is art.
4) Humanitarian Trips - Finally, a good humanitarian trip or “medical mission” abroad does wonders for your appreciation of home as well as for your overall perspective. As a young doctor, my mom worked in Nigeria for three years. The pay was horrible, the country unstable and the heat was often unbearable. But she grew so much. When you give of yourself on this level, you often become a much happier person as a result. If the doom and gloom of American medicine start to mess with your inner balance too much, a solid trip to Haiti might be just what the doctor should have ordered:)
You see where I am going with this. We have a long way to go if we are serious about improving the American health care environment. But we can start with being purposeful about creating a more internationally-rounded vision of the medical field. And what better way to do that than to rack up some frequent flyer miles!
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