What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About Their Work


July 22, 2022 – What would doctors like patients to understand about the practice of medicine today?

More than 200 U.S. doctors responded to a recent Medscape poll that aimed to find out just that. Read on for what primary care doctors and specialists say they wish their patients knew about their work.

Patients Don’t See All That We Do

A family medicine doctor noted that patients are unaware that their face-to-face time with patients is only about one-third of the work doctors do.

They are doing a half-dozen other things that may cause them to run late:

“We not only see patients in the office, but we also answer phone calls, speak with hospital physicians about admitted patients, review charts, fill prescriptions, meet with industry people, see walk-ins … and there are many days that we don’t even get to eat. … Those are some of the many reasons why we are late to see patients,” said one internist.

“I have several thousand patients, so when I am running late, it isn’t out of disrespect, it is because I am being pulled in multiple directions,” a family doctor commented.

“I am still helping someone else who needed more time while they are waiting, and they would get the same amount of time if needed,” said a hematologist-oncologist.

“Emergencies of other patients may cause delays in your care. Think of yourself as the patient with the unplanned emergency,” said an emergency medicine doctor.

We Care About You

Doctors who responded to the poll wanted patients to know how dedicated they are to helping them, even if the doctor may seem to be rushed or doesn’t get to spend as much time with the patient as they would like.

“I care about every patient that I care for, and I want to make the right diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment,” said an emergency medicine doctor.

“The main reason that we chose medicine is to improve people’s lives. The respect, high income, and mental challenge are secondary. We sacrifice personal and family time for our patients on a daily basis,” a urologist commented.

A dermatologist said, “We are in the profession of helping people. We have a duty to always act in your best interests. We are the only profession where that is an absolute. We want you to get well. We want you to understand what is happening with your body/mind. We care for you, and we try very hard to be worthy of your respect.”

‘We’re People Too’

A surgical oncologist wanted patients to know that doctors try their best, but they’re human and therefore imperfect.

“We’re capable of making mistakes from time to time. Medicine is not an exact science, and so each person will react differently to different therapies,” another surgeon said.

An emergency medicine doctor commented, “We’re people too with feelings. We get hurt being yelled at, cussed at, manipulated, kicked, punched, etc.”

“Those who are truly sick or injured rarely act in this manner. Yet, it is the physician who is always at fault. It would be an extremely rare individual who has not made a human error at their job,” he said.

Family doctors also wanted patients to know this:

“We’re human with all of the same family, life stresses, and emotions outside of work as everyone else.”

“That I too am a person with a family of my own and, occasionally, health problems. We also deserve vacations.”

We Have a Lot of Training

An emergency medicine doctor wanted patients to know how much time and effort it takes to become a doctor.

“We went to school and studied a lot of things to get where we are. We have reasons for doing things that may not seem obvious. You can’t become a doctor reading stuff on the internet,” an internist said.

A pathologist said, “I’d like patients to understand the truly hard work and dedication required. For me, 4 years of medical school, 4 years of residency, and a year of fellowship. It took 9 years before I started practicing my specialties in anatomic and clinical pathology. And every day, I prayed dear God, don’t let me make an error of judgement and hurt anyone.”

“Fortunately, I did not, but I don’t think that matters to anyone, or that anyone cares. I would never make the same personal sacrifices that I did in hindsight.”

Doctors’ Tips for Patients

  • Please ask if you have a question about your diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment options. No reputable doctor will argue against your wishes to get a second opinion.
  • Be familiar with your medical history, and be patient when you get asked similar questions multiple times.
  • Please do not wait until the last minute to get refills or request letters or paperwork.
  • Please understand that we can’t adequately address multiple issues in a single visit.


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