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Cam Marston on Doctors and Parenting

On this week’s Keepin’ It Real, Cam Marston tells us about a prep call he had with a group of doctors for an upcoming conference, and how what’s in a shoebox in his daughter’s room is part of the doctor’s problem.

“I didn’t realize it would be so hard.”

That’s from a conference call with the leaders of a mid-Atlantic hospital system a few weeks back. We were talking about their young, newly minted doctors. I was putting the finishing touches on a workshop for their spring leadership conference.

It seems that medical residency has gotten much easier; less stress, less sleepless nights, less intensity, less rigor. Once residency is over, the newly minted doctors are shocked at how hard the real work of being a doctor is. They’re demanding more money, more vacation, fewer hours. When asked why, they say “I didn’t realize the work would be so hard. I need more.” The hospital is making major exceptions for the new doctors, and it’s causing big problems. They told me of doctors leaving patients mid-procedure because their shift was over, assuming someone will show up and finish.

“What in the world is wrong with kids these days?” was my immediate response, but that’s misplaced blame.

A shoe box in my daughter’s bedroom is full of ribbons from her days as a young swimmer. They range from 6th to 11th place. She was never a good swimmer. She always got ribbons. Today she laughs at them. “Participant trophies,” she says, rolling her eyes. Let’s be clear: those ribbons are a parenting trend. Parents like you and me bought them and gave them out. We thought it was the right thing to do. Today, my kids are older and think participant trophies are silly, but the trophy’s impact remains with them today and it’s this: Any amount of effort, regardless of outcome, deserves recognition. That’s what a participant trophy is. The greater the effort, the more elite the participant, the more the recognition needed.

The young doctors in my client’s hospital system are no different. They’ve been taught by people just like you and me that since it’s hard and since they’ve put in a big effort, they deserve more. Medical residency’s historically rough road has been flattened and paved for them. “They’ve worked hard, let’s help them out,” some residency director, and likely a parent, said at some point, and incremental creep continually makes the road easier, and it’s not just doctors, it’s everywhere. Add Covid money plus work from home and suddenly doing little and getting paid for it is possible.

I was clear with my hospital client: this problem is not solvable in a half day workshop. I can give them a new way of understanding the problem that will give them a start in changing their culture. The truth is, though, this is a societal problem that began long ago. The workplace solution is to model the behavior you want to see and make it the defining part of your workplace culture. It will take time. I told the doctors on the call if you thought the final chapters of your career would be easier as the next generation steps in and takes the lead, it probably won’t. I’m sorry, but remember, it’s a problem that we – all of us – created.

I’m Cam Marston, and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.