Cultivating compassion, caring

May 1, 2007

Elk Grove Village, Ill. - Physicians who practice with compassion and know their limits are better able to treat their patients, according to Michael Greenberg, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

"Compassion starts with individual doctors. If you are not taking care of yourself, you cannot take care of patients very well. Physicians also need to have some fun every day. Caretakers tend to burn out unless they are taking care of themselves," he tells Dermatology Times.

Think basics

"Much of our profession has been focused on dollars and the bottom line, and we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that the basic foundation for healthcare is compassion and care. Practicing caring medicine is the best practice promotion that there is," he says.

Patients who come to Greenberg's office are never rushed, and no one is ever turned down for lack of money.

"This doesn't mean they can pay what they want; it means they can pay what they can afford," he says, adding that he has suggested to patients that they give up some cable television services or cigarettes to afford medication.

Communication issues

While good communication skills may not be taught in medical school, they are needed.

"There are things that physicians can learn to make their flow easier and to actually have a happier practice," he says.

Improving interviewing skills with patients can help. Often, when patients walk in the office, they may have fears related to their condition, even though they do not express them.

"Every acne patient is scared they are ugly or that they will be scarred, and women with hair loss are scared they will go bald," he says. "Sometimes we don't address this, and if you answer these questions - and some of them are not spoken - patients adore you. You have done your job."

Fending off frustration

It is not uncommon for physicians to become frustrated with patients throughout the day.

"Often patients are unhappy with the system, and they are more demanding. They are not as nice as they used to be, and it is not personal to us. They are mad at insurance companies, but we are the only human face they see, so they literally climb all over us," he says.

At his office, Dr. Greenberg encourages his staff to express their frustration before moving on to other patients. Allowing time for staff to briefly vent frustrations helps relieve office tensions.

"You cannot carry the one angry patient of the day around all day long," he says.

Know your limits

By focusing less on money and more on caring, Dr. Greenberg says he is both successful and happy.

"I love going to my office. But, I realize I can't take on the world," he says.

Despite waiting lists, it is important for physicians to say "No" to prevent burnout.

"There is nothing wrong with admitting to your humanity and that you have limits," Dr. Greenberg says. "I used to think a lot of doctors would take on more patients for greed. They don't.

"They really take on too much because they want to help. They feel guilty, but there has to be a balance. Physicians have to learn to say, 'I am sorry; I can't do more than this,'" Dr. Greenberg says.

Thinking outside the box and brainstorming for creative solutions can also help.