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Urgent care operations are tough; and many owner-operators struggle to manage the burden of wearing so many operational hats. On any given day you’re a Medical Director, HR Director, Chief Financial Officer, Marketing Director and maybe even Carnival Director (depending on your staff!), but the one thing to never lose sight of is the fact that you’re a healthcare provider. Remember why you chose this profession, or perhaps it chose you?

A good friend of mine forwarded me the commencement address presented to the 2010 graduates of Yale’s Medical School. This same friend tends to forward me all sorts of insightful tidbits ranging from the political to socially conscious, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for when I opened this one. The speaker, himself a physician, started his speech commending the new graduates on their success and the bright future ahead of them. He then went on to recount stories of his career as a practitioner from both sides of the stethoscope; many humorous, some quite touching.

Continuing his address, this physician then told a story of a dear friend who recently lost her husband of many years. He passed away after a terrible illness which placed him in the hospital ICU. She told this practitioner that while she wished she could focus on the good memories of her husband, the last days were stolen away from her by a technicality that was rather cruel.

You see, the hospital where her husband spent his final days had a policy that limited or restricted visitors and times to the Intensive Care Unit (as many ICU’s do). But in this case, it extended to even spouses and in this instance, without regard to the terminal nature of this patient’s illness. As the speaker so poignantly said during his address, both the patient and his wife of nineteen years would have much rather had the quality of these lasts moments together than the meager quantity that the hospitals efforts to prolong his life attempted to provide. Unfortunately, this woman, like so many others, was greeted with it’s the policy of the hospital or it’s our rules, instead of compassion and a moment of understanding. How many of us faced with a similar circumstance would have given ANYTHING for an extra moment to hold a loved one’s hand or to have an additional second to reminisce about a favorite time?

As he concluded his address to the future physicians, the speaker reminded them that everything they had learned  anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, – gave them incredible power to do good yet simultaneously be cruel. They would be placed in a position to feel privileged and powerful, to hear secrets from frightened patients, to see humanity at its lowest and highest, and sometimes to even provide the greatest gift of all  life!

With all that power and privilege, title and prestige, it is easy to become the maker and enforcer of rules, and yet so easy to forget however suffocating, dehumanizing and CRUEL those rules can be to the person in our care. This is not to say that we cannot have rules in healthcare, we must. It’s so easy to break the rules when it’s the mother of the preemie who merely wants to touch the tiny hand of her child, the frightened child who sees a parent unconscious after bypass, or a wife wanting those last moments with her husband.

But do we remember what we’re here for? Do we daily embrace the concept that the patient sitting across from us is NOT here for our gratification but rather WE are here for them? Do we treat them like they are an inconvenience to our hectic day or do we recognize that whatever illness or injury has brought them seeking our services is likely a major inconvenience to their work, home or family life?  And while we certainly look to our patients as our revenue source, let us also not forget that they too are minding a household budget and bottom line and perhaps did not anticipate yet another co-pay or another prescription for Little Johnny’s third case of pink-eye this semester.

Take a moment, reach out and shake the patient’s hand as you introduce yourself, make eye contact, share just a little something, listen and take interest in what the patient is saying. Yes- urgent care does tend to focus on a Get em in  get em out mentality, and certainly rules are important in healthcare  but hopefully never at the expense of compassion and caring about the patient.

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