On this episode of the Pursuit of Health Podcast we continue our investigation into the topic of Physician Burnout with Dr. Laura Vater. Dr. Vater has gained a much deserved recognition for her approach to this issue by focusing on Humanism in Medicine. She received her Bachelor of Science and minor in Poverty Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. She then went on to complement her skill set with a master of Public Health degree at the University of Pittsburgh where she focused on Behavioral and Community Health. She returned to Indiana to complete her residency in Internal medicine and this Spring will complete a rigorous fellowship in Hematology and Oncology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
She is the recipient of many accolades including being selected as 1 of every 1000 residents to be a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society. Though early in her career, she has already penned several research and narrative essay publications, is a regularly invited public speaker, and has a growing online platform addressing Humanism in Healthcare. She is also the creator of a very useful tool - the SMILE scale - providers can use to help prioritize their own health.
During our discussion, Dr Vater shares the origin of her decision to become a physician and oncologist. This very personal story revolved around her mother as a role model who entered medical school later in adulthood when Dr Vater was already a teenager. Her interest in medicine was further heightened by the experience of a close family friend who lived through the challenges of cancer. Ultimately, confronting her mother’s sudden life threatening illness during Dr. Vater’s first year of medical school led her in the direction of Humanism in Medicine.
Dr. Vater reveals the current challenges in healthcare that take the Humanity out of Medicine and how she has been working diligently to reconnect with her true self and her patients and maintain the joy in her work through Humanism. She explains that Humanism stresses the importance of physicians establishing a connection with patients and caring for physicians as humans too.
Dr. Vater opens the door for our listeners into the concept of Compassion Fatigue and the associated risk of clinicians losing empathy in training and practice. She believes that it is important for everyone involved in healthcare to continue talking about Compassion Fatigue in order to get it out in the open - thus restoring our vital human interconnections and preventing physician burnout.
Dr. Vater and Dr. Fethke share their love of teaching medicine to enthusiastic students as a way to find rejuvenation and remind us all why we entered medicine in the first place. In so doing, they also warn about the risks of mentors modeling bad behaviors that lead the students towards being hardened and less empathetic.
Our guest and host find that they also both share a passion for writing about their experiences as physicians and the stories of those that have taught them the most about being a doctor - their patients. They hope that this comes through not only in their narrative publications, but in the medical records of their patients. These are human beings and we are honored and humbled to be invited into their lives and tell their stories.
The discussion with Dr. Vater finished with her introduction and explanation of the SMILE scale she established. Listen closely as she takes us through this simple yet powerful tool to help maintain Humanism in Healthcare.
Dr. Eric Fethke and the team at The Pursuit of Health Podcast look forward to your comments on this and any of our prior episodes. We can be reached on Facebook and Instagram at drfethkemd and our website at drfethkemd.com.