Disabled MD pens book about medical career from doctor and patient perspectives
NASHVILLE—Diana Reed, MD, found herself with time on her hands after becoming disabled from doing clinical work in 2004. Even though she returned to the medical field, Reed ultimately retired from medicine when additional rehabilitation surgeries were unsuccessful.
With her three children grown, Reed whipped out a laptop and started writing candidly – and beautifully from the heart – about the experiences that shaped her career and early retirement.
“At the peak of my clinical career, I became disabled,” said Reed, 55, noting, “With a wide range of experience in medicine and in life’s challenges, I felt that I had something to contribute to healthcare literature, especially in light of the changes coming as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.” After a beat, she adds: “In a way, I’m thankful these terrible physical problems happened to me because it gave me the opportunity to take the time to write for my fellow colleagues because they can’t be activists while working 80 hours a week. They’re just keeping their heads above water. Most people have no idea how tough it is to be a doctor in this day and age. They think doctors live this life of luxury and everything’s great, with no idea of the sacrifices doctors make, how they can’t be with their family when the ER calls at 2 a.m.”
The Other End of the Stethoscope: The Physicians’ Perspective on the Health Care Crisis (Author House, 2012) is in the same vein in a small but significant way of famed author Scott Turow’s One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School (Penguin, 1975).
“The greatest challenge writing the book was seeing it through and believing that it would matter, that somebody would want to read it and do something with it,” she said. “I had the option to publish it with Rutgers University Press, but they wanted a longer body of work, with more embellishment. I thought it was better to keep it short and sweet for readers, including fellow doctors, and I wanted to include a lot of up to date information. It’s important to pay attention to why we’re losing doctors to early retirement, or quitting mid-career.”
Reed’s youth doesn’t read as a blueprint for advocacy in leadership. As a teen, she admittedly was “such a bad student and always in trouble” that she dropped out of public high school, attending instead a “free school,” Skunk Hollow High. “In fact, no one would’ve pegged me as a future neurologist, yet from these nontraditional roots, I stumbled into this noble profession.”
After college, Reed was accepted into medical school on the second try.
“The first rejection was a big blow, and I realized how poorly prepared I was,” she said. “I knew so very little about what being a doctor was really like.”
During her gynecology rotation at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine, Reed saw a patient die for the first time. “(The patient) was very old and had suffered with ovarian cancer,” she recalled. “I observed as my senior resident came into the room and spoke with the family. The family members shed many tears, and I was crying too, even though I didn’t know this patient. It was the first time I’d been so close to death since the death of my father years before. My resident wasn’t crying, however, and I wondered at the time how she maintained her composure. After we left the room, she kindly took me aside and assured me that these situations would get easier in the future. I prayed that she was right.”
Reed experienced pregnancies with some complications during medical school and admits she made “a poor patient.”
“I read about … everything,” she recalled. “I questioned everything my doctor told me and wondered if he knew what he was talking about. I must’ve been a real pain in the neck.”
After completing a neurology residency at the University of California-San Diego, Reed’s career spanned from a solo private practitioner to assistant professor of neurology. After the failed back surgeries, she found work doing radiology managed care, as a medical director.
“I’d really gotten burned out with the difficulties of private practice,” she explained. “It was getting impossible to pay staff with rising overhead and declining reimbursements. I joined a large multi-specialty group, but the politics and personalities were problematic.”
Reed also faced astronomical medical malpractice insurance premiums while practicing in Florida. She returned to Tennessee before Florida lawmakers passed significant tort reform. “I’d been practicing in Jacksonville Beach and Pensacola, and left when med mal went from $5,000 to $35,000 for one-quarter of the coverage I needed,” she said.
Before she was permanently disabled, Reed worked as a board-certified neurologist in five states. She was initially injured on the job while working at Vanderbilt University, testing the strength of the leg of a patient who had experienced a traumatic brain injury. “He kicked back with his leg so hard and fast that he caught me off guard and off balance,” she recalled. “I felt the characteristic pop of a ruptured disc and developed severe pain in my back.”
Reed then had an unsettling dose of reality as a patient.
“I felt awkward sitting in the waiting room, MRI films in hand, filling out the reams of paperwork required,” she said. “As the doctor examined me, I worried that my feet smelled or that he thought I was fat.” When complications arose, she thought, “They’ve given up on me. If they treat me this way, and I’m a colleague, how do they treat their other patients?”
These days, Reed continues to flex her creative muscles, including penning poetry like “The Physician.” (See sidebar.) Earlier this year, she spoke for the Global Humanitarian Summit at Emory University. During the 2011 Occupy Nashville movement, she helped tend the ill.
Reed also stays busy with her children and their families. Reed’s daughter is a linguist in the Air Force, serving in Afghanistan. Her son lives in Cookeville, Tenn., where he’s working on an engineering degree from Tennessee Tech. Her stepson and his wife live in Lewisburg, Tenn.; he works in construction management.
“Now, 60 percent of doctors don’t recommend a career in medicine to their kids,” noted Reed, grandmother of Logan, 6. “I didn’t either, though medicine is still a very rewarding field, a noble profession. It’s hard to take away the joy you feel when you help patients get better, even with all the frustration, paperwork and difficulties. You have to go into it with open eyes and open hearts.”
Reed admitted the goal and message of her book is to stimulate dialogue on national healthcare.
“National healthcare can save America $400 billion,” she said, “which could go a long way toward solving the national debt. It is also the only truly compassionate choice.”
RELATED STORY: “The Physician”
My healing hands
Knotted by lawyers,
Bound by insurance or
Would that I could
Give it all up, but
This calling is strong.
I was created
I rise above
The joy of healing
Is my life’s purpose.
-- DIANA REED, MD