Fewer apologies, more focus on trying our best

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 66, No. 4, May 2024, Page 105 Editorials

We are taught to take responsibility for our actions, make amends when we make a mistake, and offer apologies when needed. A funny stereotype is that Canadians love starting a conversation with an apology: “Sorry, but can I . . . ?” This practice seems ingrained in our culture.

Reflecting on when I started practising family medicine, I often found myself apologizing to patients for systemic issues beyond my control, sharing in their frustration over the limitations of our health care system. This was often about prolonged wait times or lack of readily accessible care. Initially unaware, I repeatedly apologized for things I had no control over, which increased my own frustration and led to feelings of helplessness and eventual burnout. Of course, if a patient requires urgent attention, I try my best to advocate for them. If my genuine effort is unable to make a difference, I used to get frustrated. Now, I tell myself that I am trying my best. When we genuinely try our best, I find patients are often very appreciative, irrespective of whether it changes the outcome.

As a society, we emphasize endpoints and outcomes, but it is vital to acknowledge dedication and going the extra mile for patients. When I ask more seasoned physicians what they find to be the most rewarding part of family practice, many tell me it is the longitudinal nature of the relationships formed with patients over many years and the ability to help them navigate their health journey. It is our commitment to patient well-being that leaves a lasting impact. I’ve learned to shift my mindset away from apologies and toward focus on actions and doing more for patients instead.

With the implementation of the Longitudinal Family Physician Payment Model, our time is more valued. I hope this model provides even more motivation for us to do more for our patients. We still face many other issues: many physicians continue to grapple with mountains of paperwork, administrative burdens, and escalating overhead costs, and wait lists for essential investigations, specialist consultations, and surgeries persistently remain long.

As a family physician, I recognize that I am one piece of a complex puzzle. At times, navigating this complex system feels overwhelming. By embracing the mindset that we’re all striving to do our best, we may alleviate some of the burdens imposed on us by the system. We all need to be mindful about physician burnout, and it has been encouraging to see many initiatives addressing physician wellness in the last few years. Happier physicians foster a more sustainable health care system. Let’s stop apologizing so much and remember we are all trying our best.
—Yvonne Sin, MD


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Yvonne Sin, MD. Fewer apologies, more focus on trying our best. BCMJ, Vol. 66, No. 4, May, 2024, Page(s) 105 - Editorials.

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