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Solving the medical riddle of ‘The Doctor Paradox’

In what must be a sure sign of the times, a podcast aimed squarely at disillusioned doctors has appeared among the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes. The Doctor Paradox podcast entered the Irish iTunes chart at number three in September this year — immediately above the hugely successful Serial podcast, and just below Brian O’Driscoll’s Bodcast.

Its mission, and that of its creator, is to rediscover passion in healthcare — and it has obviously struck a chord with Irish listeners.

Of particular interest is that the founder and host of the podcast, Dr Paddy Barrett, is a recently-emigrated Irish medical trainee. Dr Barrett, who hails from Loughrea in Co Galway, now works in the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, US.

In an interview with me, Dr Barrett explained that he created the podcast because he felt there was a need to provide a road map for his disillusioned medical colleagues.

“I had encountered endless trainees who were always struggling with being unhappy in what, by all conventional characteristics, is one of the most meaningful jobs you can have. They were somewhat directionless and there seems to be no formal infrastructure available to people to give them guidance to help choose what to do within medicine,” he told me.

While Dr Barrett completed his formal cardiology training in Ireland, he does not feel as though doctor disillusionment is something exclusive to this country: “I worked in Australia, the US and in Ireland and the same issue exists everywhere. There are certain individual components’ complements that exist for each country.”

But he also came across people in his training who seemed to cope better than others: “There are also people that I have encountered in every country who, no matter what, are getting immense satisfaction out of their work — and we all know those people.”

Dr Barrett began to wonder what it was about those individuals that made them tick: “For me, it was how I might explain it to myself — and if I could do that, [there] might be a whole lot of people in the same position [who] would derive value out of me doing it for myself.”

In addition to focusing on the ‘why’ of doctor disillusionment, the podcast also explores the ‘how’ of fixing it by exposing his listenership to some possible solutions. He interviews doctors who rediscovered their passions, and who have carved new paths, both within and outside of traditional healthcare.

The Doctor Paradox also serves as an exploration of ‘new medicine’, where the traditional model of what it means to be a doctor is being altered by new technologies and devices.

“I believe we are moving towards a new medicine and for new medicine, we require new doctors. If the basic tenet as a physician is that you have to add meaning and value to peoples lives, the reality is that you can do that now in a whole new stream of ways. I want people to know that this is okay,” Dr Barrett said.

The line-up of interviewees for the first few podcasts is impressive and includes Dr Eric Topol (author of The Creative Destruction of  Medicine and Editor in Chief of Medscape). Dr Topol tells us how digital medicine will change the culture of medicine — and how physicians can best prepare themselves.

Dr Deepak Chopra, well-known alternative health expert and author, tells of his own struggles while training and how training needs to have a much greater emphasis placed on ensuring that trainees feel appreciated and heard.

Also interviewed are Dr Sandeep Jauhar (author of Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, Dr Daniel Kraft (TED speaker, serial entrepreneur and Founder of Exponential Medicine) and Prof Barry Schwartz (author of Why We Work), among others.

I asked Dr Barrett if there were any factors that successful and fulfilled doctors he had come across seem to share: “They all had the courage to follow their own internal compass and it led them in the right direction, though it seemed to be taking them off the well-worn path. They also seemed to find joy in what they knew to be true, and were able to find a way to embrace those things in their lives.”

Luckily for Dr Barrett, they also seemed to be the ones most likely to agree to return his call: “Most of the people that you reach out to are physicians and they understand that this is a very real problem. They’ve probably gone through this and probably discovered this [dilemma] themselves. They empathise with this journey.”

Dr Barrett has done himself and his colleagues a great service by bravely exploring the heart and future of medicine in this way. The process of doing so will hopefully allow him to experience the joy in medicine he so nobly aspires to re-awaken in others.

See www.thedoctorparadox.com for more.

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