Going Back to Clinic
About a year after I moved to DC, I started having a regular clinic, again. (It took them that long to process my credentialing paperwork.) So, since late 2007 or early 2008, I’ve been going to the VA hospital most Friday mornings to see patients. Overall, I’ve enjoyed it. Most of the patients have been nice, and I know I’ve helped a few of them. Some of the patients have been a bit more challenging. And they’re the ones that come in more frequently. The staff have always been great. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible to do clinic one half-day per week and maintain my other jobs.
But, as I thought about going back to school, I was worried that it was just one more responsibility I’d have to juggle. It’s not like my regular job reduced my workload by 10% since I was out of the office 10% of the time. And with classes 4 nights a week, I can’t afford to work late, so need to keep my schedule as close to 40 hours a week as possible.
I also started studying for my Internal Medicine board recertification exam. Every ten years, we have to take this exam, along with several online self-education modules. As I was studying for the test (which I did pass, btw), I realized that I had forgotten a lot of medicine that I used to know. When you don’t do rheumatology or cancer care, it’s hard to keep up with the new tests and treatments.
Both of those factors helped me decide that it was time to give up clinic.
About 3 months ago, I told the clinic staff, who were all saddened to see me leave. And we started telling patients. Several of them didn’t seem to care. They were just stoic that this is what happens in the clinic. Staff come and go. Residents rotate out every three years. Most of the patients said they were very sad that I was leaving. One patient asked me to come back just every three months so that I could still be their doctor for their regular appointment.
This past Friday was my last day in clinic. It was bittersweet. I’m excited to be taking one more step towards simplifying my life as school’s about to start. But, I will miss the staff, and most of the patients. It’s also a little sad because I’m not sure I’m a “real” doctor, anymore. I even gave my stethoscope away to one of the staff.
They had a going-away party and breakfast for me before clinic started. It was supposed to be a surprise, but it ended up getting included in some general clinic announcements I was cc’d on. There was lots of tasty food in the conference room.
They even got me gifts. I got a beautiful red leather toiletry bag, which means I can use my old one for the gym instead of going to buy a new one for the gym. (One item checked off my To Do list.) I also got a card with lots of nice comments, a box of chocolates, a plaque thanking me for my service, and a box of Pop-tarts (my secret indulgence).
Before the gifts, the clinic director made a brief speech, which was very kind. She talked about how they often assigned me patients that were having conflicts with their other doctor because they knew I could handle them in a kind way. It reminded me that so much of medicine isn’t about the science of medicine. It’s the ability to listen — to connect — with a patient. I will miss that.
I will probably be back in clinic next week. First off, there’s a fair chance I’ll forget I don’t have clinic. I’ll just wake up like any Friday and drive there. Even if I remember, I probably need to go in and do some paperwork. Friday morning, I realized that I hadn’t told anyone in administration that I was leaving. I stopped by Friday after my clinic was done. (None of my patients showed up!) The guy who handles that paperwork was on vacation. It’s my own fault. About 3 months ago, when I made the decision, I realized I needed to tell them, but figured I’d wait and do it about 4 weeks before I was done. Then, I forgot.
I worked with some really great people there and I will them all much more than I miss the patients. I will also miss a few of the patients.
But, I guess I can always go back to clinic. I am Board Certified until 2021, now.