The Premise

Do you love your doctor?

Does your doctor love her work?

What would that look like?

How would it transform her care of you and your relationship with her?

When we entered medical school, it felt almost euphoric—we dreamed and worked for years, then the awesome tribe of healers and scientists accepted us into its ranks, woohoooo!  Then we trained and entered practice, and the luster wore off quickly for many of us.  By the end of their third year, 13% of medical students report thinking of suicide at one time or another.  Over half of primary care physicians experience symptoms of burnout.  The suicide rate among physicians dwarfs that of the general population.

Our healthcare system consistently divides physicians from patients, and we all suffer.  Imagine coming to work every morning, knowing your job is to help people in their most vulnerable and intimate states, when you yourself feel utterly exhausted and spent.  We know we let our patients down when we can’t bring our best selves, and it kills us.  Maybe you come to the doctor, hoping for and expecting answers and relief for your suffering, or at least a little compassion, and you find him distant and distracted, even indifferent and cold.  How could you possibly trust him and open up again?  Physicians and patients both take out our frustrations on each other, often without even knowing, and our relationships deteriorate quickly.

I know not all patient-physician relationships feel like this.  But enough do that our healthcare system corrodes at its core.  How often do you meet a doctor who so obviously loves his work that his passion for health rubs off on you, making you want to take better care of yourself?  Think of your most fulfilling relationships—what are the common features?  Likely you respect these people, know them well, forgive them their mistakes, and want the best for them.  They probably feel the same for you.  Both parties feel seen, heard, understood, and accepted.  It’s safe, and you connect.  What if your relationship with your doctor felt like this?

My premise: Patients and physicians have control over one thing above all else: our relationship with each other.  Relationships live and die by communication.  Barriers on the obstacle course of patient-physician communication loom large and formidable. Our system fails us over and again. And it falls to each of us, not the system, to find our way to connection and healing relationships.

In this blog, I explore practices: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and communication, among others.  I share stories from practice, friendship, marriage, parenting–life!  Because all relationships impact us and teach us.  Our relationships save us.  And through these practices, with some laughs and Aha! moments along the way, we can save the physician-patient relationship.

18 thoughts on “The Premise

  1. Wow, Cathy Cheng, You encapsulated what so many of us experience every day. We come in every day with the best of intentions and find ourselves falling flat, for various reasons. I’m so looking forward to hearing more from you and our colleagues.


  2. Thank you, that is just what I needed to hear this week. I once felt that about my doctor but things have changed dramatically and this week begins hopefully a new patient doctor relationship for one of my children. I needed to be reminded that what I currently have isn’t helping my family or my doctor.


  3. Michele at The Green Study showed me the way to your blog. I’m so glad you posted this link in your comment. I’ve seen more doctors in the last year than in the past 47 combined. I do not love them. Your descriptors – “distant and distracted – indifferent and cold” are right on the mark as far as my experience goes. I do, however, love my dentist. His office staff are genuinely friendly, he is always on time for our appointments, and he takes a real interest in his patient’s lives. Plus, he is an interesting person. I wish all of my doctors were like this. It certainly would reduce the anxiety I have before, during, and after each 12.7 minute visit.


    • Hello Honie, thank you for visiting, and nice to meet you! I look forward to reading more of your writing. I am sorry your experience with physicians has been negative. 😔 I wonder what you wound think of my recent post, “Closing the Satusfaction Gap?” Thank you for your comment, and please come back again! 😊


  4. Yes, yes and yes. I always thought of you as a great teacher (and learner), seester. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from your blog on how to better myself as a healthcare provider, keeping in mind my patients’ best interests. So proud of you! 🙂


  5. I, for one love my doctor. Like your family, he is a Chinese immigrant. He was raised in Canada and he does seem to love and encourages his patients to live a healthy lifestyle. He integrates eastern and and western practices such as acupuncture and advises his patients to use preventative measures to ensure good health. He is the one who encouraged me to abandon white carbs years ago before everyone else jumped on the low carb bandwagon. I can understand how doctors could burn out easily seeing sick patients who abuse their bodies day after day and expect a doctor to “cure” them.


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  7. I admire the work doctors do, but I don’t envy it. We–your patients–so often expect the impossible of you, and you work in a system that so often doesn’t support you, or your patients. My partner worked in the mental health field for years, and I saw the weight she carried. I respect your struggle to maintain your humanity and to remember your patients’ humanity in the face of that.


    • Thank you for visiting, Ellen, and for your encouraging comment. I want to write about expectations very soon. Not only in medicine, but in life, when we carry unrealistic expectations or misunderstand potential risk/harm/cost/benefit, we suffer more. I want to help people communicate better, increase transparency, honesty, integrity. How do you see these attributes play out in your world, and what supports them or challenges them?


  8. Holy Healer, Batman! Do you have any idea how badly your voice is needed, Catherine? There is so much broken with our healthcare delivery system (frying doctors before they’re even done with school is one). But this? This is the place where a difference can be made. This is where change can happen. You make me, cautiously, hopeful.

    Liked by 1 person

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