Each day during National Physicians Week we will be publishing a different physician perspective to highlight the different voices of those who work in the field. Today, Dr. Sheena Sharma provides a outlook of hope for physicians who feel burned out by the current healthcare system. Article by Ariel Jacoby.
Physicians in this country are in the midst of a crisis. The public has lost faith in the abilities and motives of the people who tend to their health, and the media eschews everyday stories of authentic healers bringing good health to their patients in favor of flashy headlines surrounding the seedy practices of big pharma, presenting physicians as their duplicitous comrades. Despite increasing CME requirements to complete more and more certifications, physicians face a very real uncertainty that they could lose their jobs to cheaper, non-physician providers. Over the past several years, Dr. Sheena Sharma has borne witness as the voices of her colleagues and fellow physicians have become drowned out in a sea of corporate medicine, patient satisfaction surveys, anonymous online reviews, and hospital mega-administrations.
It didn’t always used to be this way.
Dr. Sharma vividly remembers the moment she decided to become a physician. The daughter of a cardiologist, she used to follow her father around during his rounds at the hospital where he worked. On one such visit, she witnessed him inserting a temporary pacemaker in a patient who was about to die in the ICU, and as she watched the quickening blips on the monitor, she became unequivocally aware of her calling in medicine. She had just watched as her father saved the life of another human, and in that moment she knew she was going to become a doctor.
The younger Dr. Sharma’s path to cardiology has been entirely shaped by her father, whose unflagging optimism is rare to find in a field that is well-known for the disturbingly high burnout rates of its workers. The elder Dr. Sharma loves his job every single day, and his consistent positive attitude stems from an internal conviction that he is the one who is privileged to provide thoughtful personal medical care to his patients. To Dr. Sharma, it is an honor to be able to put on a white coat every day and call himself a doctor.
When Dr. Ishwara Sharma came to India to America in the 1970’s, he had two things: his medical residency and eight dollars in his pocket - five of those dollars he had spent on headphones to use during the long plane ride. He has come a long way since then, as the successful owner and lead physician at a private practice cardiology clinic, InterMed Associates, where he works alongside his daughter. But his deep-seated feelings of humility and respect towards the profession he adores have remained with him through the decades.
The younger Dr. Sharma followed in her father’s footsteps (though wearing heels) and the two Dr. Sharmas have observed together as the treatment of physicians in today’s healthcare system has steadily deteriorated. Years ago, they watched multiple other cardiology practices in the area become forced to merge with large hospital systems after a steep drop in Medicare reimbursements for myocardial perfusion stress imaging, severely handicapping all cardiology practices with no way to manage the loss.
Though they were able to maintain their own private practice, the experience was deeply unsettling for Dr. Sheena Sharma. She loves her job - she loves the science of her work, and coming into the office each morning to start her day reading echocardiograms. She loves working alongside her father, and the moments they get to share as part of a father-daughter and physician team in the exam room. She loves both the small moments when she connects with a patient’s vulnerabilities and soothes their fear, and the big moments when she gets to save those patients’ lives. But it saddens her to watch the public become more and more distrustful of doctors, and it scares her to know that she and her father are in a long-term battle to keep their practice private.
In these moments of doubt, Dr. Sharma’s father and mentor reminds her to hold her ground. His unwavering confidence that the state of medicine will turn around is her light at the end of the tunnel. Dr. Ishwara Sharma has remained unflustered in the face of physician adversity, calmly committed to the values of compassionate patient care that initially drew him to become a physician. He has the untroubled laugh and serene self-assurance of a man who knows what is his calling in life, and has answered that calling every day without looking back. Not once has he betrayed the integrity of his profession, and he remains trustful that it will not betray him.
There are too many doctors that have dedicated their lives to healing others only to have the world beat them back for it. These doctors deserve greater respect for the superhuman acts and miracles they perform each day, for the countless hours of sleep and life experiences that they’ve sacrificed for the good of the patient. All medical professionals ought to be proud of the heroic work they do, and physicians as a collective group have earned the right to speak up and be heard clearly amidst the cacophony of voices in the discussion of our healthcare system.
At InterMed Associates, there are two Dr. Sharmas. Dr. Ishwara Sharma and Dr. Sheena Sharma are physicians, true healers, to their very core. For them, and millions of other physicians like them, medicine was never a choice - it was and is part of who they are.
Dr. Sheena Sharma is a cardiologist living in Massachusetts. She is one of the original founders of Physicians Working Together (PWT) and is honored to be a voice for the thousands of physicians who are members of the organization.