Full tank

By: Fatima Ignacio Gimenez - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 27,2023 - 08:00 AM

“I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. … The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.” (Jacinda Ardern, former prime minister of New Zealand)

This truly remarkable woman has never failed to both shock and inspire. How many in such a position of power would be able to let go that easily or be audacious enough? More often than not, such an admission would inevitably be viewed as a sign of weakness. To me, it was plainly reflective of two things, the depth of her self-knowledge and her humility. One wonders if we are as aware and if we have enough in the tank to be of service. We definitely can learn a lot from her, irrespective of where or who we are. Her words and actions are worthy of respect and command needed self-reflection.

“Doctor, thank you po for your support.” Those words had come from a senior pediatric resident who had just presented a case that turned out to be a diagnostic dilemma. My reply, “You are most welcome. That was the least I could do to let everyone know that the course of action taken was my decision and not yours. After all, I am the captain of the ship and the reason that the case was presented was because I did not have the answers. We needed the input of the team so we could do what is best for the patient and his family. In dealing with saving lives, there is no room for arrogance but plenty of space to practice humility complimented by unrelenting perseverance and deep prayer.” Before that particular day ended, I caught up with a mentor and asked what would be the best teaching strategy in going about making clinical decisions when faced with gray areas. How did he bring me up back then? He didn’t bother to mince words. “Allow them to do their homework and their best.”

Being a physician is difficult with medicine not being an exact science and riddled with complexities. What makes it more difficult is the responsibility that the job entails because we have a direct hand in saving lives. As I continue growing in this profession, I am beginning to understand and appreciate the value of constant communication as a way to let the patient know that we care more than they could ever imagine. Moreover, in the journey to self-knowledge, I have seen the importance of acknowledging my own limitations and sharing uncertainties with both the patient and his family. Letting them in on your thought processes and plan of action goes a long way in any doctor-patient relationship. Such open discussions and honesty lead to a better understanding of what the patient and the family are facing and build that needed element of trust. Never ever think that you’re the only one with solutions. Be humble enough to admit that you would be in need of help. Though you may be good, someone will always come along who will be better than you or have more experience even if you are in the same field. To seek another’s consult is never a sign of incapability, would never hurt, and comes at no cost.

A good physician is one who knows his limitations. As the attending physician, always remember to include others in the equation, as it is never about you in the first place. Focus on the only one who matters, the patient.

* * *

I will take this opportunity to remind everyone that tuberculosis (TB) is still a public health concern. Together with the Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis and the Department of Health, we had just celebrated World TB Day. The Philippines sadly has been a top contributor to the global burden and we need to revitalize efforts to end TB. We call on our colleagues and the medical community to document their efforts and report cases.

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