physicians’ lounge

I recently read an article about how the physicians’ lounge, which was once present in every hospital and an important congregating area for doctors during the day, is now mostly a thing of the past. Although the article was not a new one, it peaked my interest because I’ve witnessed the demise of the physicians’ lounge at close quarters over the last several years.

Speaking too as someone who has worked in several different hospitals up and down the East Coast, it’s a change in culture that has kind of just been accepted as the medical profession has had to deal with exponentially increasing regulatory burdens while simultaneously catapulting itself into the arms of big corporate medicine.

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As exotic as the word may sound, however, the “lounge” was simply a spacious room where extremely busy independent doctors would enter every now and again during their hectic days, grab a quick tea or coffee, eat lunch, and chat with their colleagues — including frequently discussing cases and matters related to their medical practice. There was typically a sofa, a television, and newspapers — if ever a real break was needed. It was a comfortable room where, to use a slang term, physicians could just chill.

Sadly for physicians, this job perk has fallen by the wayside. Where lounges do now exist, they are ghosts of a room, places of minimal interaction and collegiality, increasingly occupied by doctors glued to their computer screens — furiously typing and clicking away to complete their “tick-boxes” before going home. Treats such as cable television or a sofa have long since disappeared.

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As the original article suggested, there are a number of reasons why this has happened, but it all essentially boils down to the monumental loss of independence and autonomy of physicians, as they’ve switched to a controlled employee-type corporate system in an environment of increased bureaucracy and workload. It also represents a sea change in how hospital administrations view and treat their physicians. The lounge is considered too much of a luxury to lavish on doctors in an era of cost-cutting and number crunching. It may also be considered risky to allow physicians any downtime, and perhaps intimidating for administrators to know that there’s an area where doctors can freely congregate and mingle? Where is there time anyway, with all the computer work that’s always needed?

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Really though, it was more than just a lounge. It was a marker of a respected and prestigious profession. Its loss is a question of self-respect for doctors, whether or not they were a huge fan of the room in the first place. It’s actually rather outrageous that a physicians’ lounge could ever be seen as an excessive perk. Physicians are the most dedicated and hard-working professionals out there, rushed off their feet for their entire day, being denied a very small job luxury compared to other professionals at the same level. They’ve got themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to fulfill their dreams, sacrificed so many of their youthful years, with that one goal in mind: become a doctor and serve others. Seriously, why would any administrator think it’s excessive or sends the wrong message to give doctors a lounge (especially when compared to the lavish rewards heaped on the MBA executives of this world)?

If ever there was something that was symbolic of what’s happened to physicians over the last 20 years, the demise of their lounge would be it.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of three books, including Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha. He is the founder and director, HealthITImprove, and blogs at his self-titled site, DocThinx.

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