It’s March 30th. Have you hugged your doctor?

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I’m in a room full of doctors at a my mom’s 50th medical school reunion when I announce, “It’s almost March 30th!” I Pause. “Doesn’t anyone know what March 30th is?” Nobody has a clue.

March 30th is National Doctors’ Day! Who knew? I never heard of it—until a friend told me last week.

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Veterans know about Veterans Day. Mothers know about Mother’s Day. Lovers know about Valentine’s Day. Why don’t doctors know about Doctors’ Day? Maybe because nobody celebrates it.

But a quick search leads me to a site that proclaims “National Doctors’ Day Gift Ideas for 2015 Are Here!” According to this official gift-giving site of The National Doctors’ Day Organization:

National Doctors’ Day is held every year on March 30th in the United States. It is a day to celebrate the contribution of physicians who serve our country by caring for its citizens. The first Doctors’ Day observance was March 30, 1933 in Winder, Georgia. Eudora Brown Almond, wife of Dr. Charles B. Almond, decided to set aside a day to honor physicians. This first observance included mailing of greeting cards and placing of flowers on graves of deceased doctors. On March 30, 1958, a resolution commemorating Doctors’ Day was adopted by the United States House of Representatives. In 1990, legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to establish a National Doctors’ Day. Following overwhelming approval by the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, on October 30, 1990, President George Bush signed S.J. RES. #366 (which became Public Law 101-473) designating March 30th as National Doctors’ Day.

Each year we lose over 400 doctors to suicide—the equivalent of an entire medical school. Doctors struggle. Doctors suffer. Doctors grieve. But doctors usually keep their feelings inside.

My recent essay on the viral photo of the ER doctor grieving the loss of his patient opened a physician floodgate of feelings. Many physicians came forward to share their stories of grief. Diane Lyn writes:

The truth is—You don’t have TIME to grieve. Because there are people inside waiting to be seen. I clearly remember in residency having to sit with my attending and tell 3 adult children that both of their healthy parents were dead. Car accident. Fifteen minutes later I was making faces at a 2-year-old so I could look in his infected ears [and I was] thinking these parents have NO idea what I’ve just been through.

Patients have no idea what doctors have been through because doctors don’t usually tell anyone what they’ve been through. When we tell our stories, we allow others to empathize with us. Amy, a psychiatrist, shares her sorrow—and a solution:

I am a physician and my husband is an ER doctor. He rarely talks about work. It is too hard for him emotionally, particularly when children die as we have two young sons of our own. The last time I went to visit him at the ER, a young child had passed away from drowning. I can’t imagine how the doctor working with that family was able to move on with her day and see other patients after such a tragedy. She was crying in the hallway when I walked into the emergency department. All I knew to do was give her a big hug. I am a psychiatrist and it is not rare for me to be brought to tears by stories I hear from my patients. It is an emotionally taxing job, one that does not allow for having a bad day of my own. I take my phone with me everywhere, answering calls, text messages, and emails on vacations and weekends. It eats away at the time I have with my own children but I do it because I care and because of the pure joy that I feel when someone returns with a good report or does something positive they never imagined that they would accomplish. I have an envelope in my office that contains thank-you notes and letters from previous clients. I encourage anyone who has had a good experience with their doctor to be proactive in sharing their gratitude. I can’t even begin to express how meaningful those moments of joy and positivity are in a career that can be so intensely heartbreaking.

How do patients react when physicians reveal their feelings? The oupouring of public support for the ER doctor crying in the viral photo speaks volumes. On my Facebook page, Carla Sallee responds, “This really touched me. I want to hug every healthcare worker I know right now. I don’t know that I ever, ever empathized with my healthcare professionals as much as I now feel I should.”

On March 30—our national day of thanksgiving for doctors—you can officially celebrate your doctor. But how? Drop off a box of chocolates? Bring a bouquet of flowers? It’s really the simple things that matter most. Here’s what my friend Butch does for his docs:

I have sent quite a few thank-you cards to doctors over the years. I quit because I thought they may be taken wrong or just too much and adding to their junk mail. Thank you for letting me know it is OK to do, Will be sending more now that I know they do help. Helping them to feel appreciated was the whole purpose anyway. Thank you for everything you do.

A few words of appreciation can help your doctor survive amid sometimes unbearable suffering. More than once, my colleagues have shared that a kind gesture by a patient made life worth living again. So give your doctor a card, a flower, a hug. The life you save may save you.

Thank you!

~ Pamela

P. S. While you’re at it, thank your nurse, dentist, and veterinarian too! Looks like they have national holidays that nobody seems to celebrate either.

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician and pioneer in the ideal medical care movement. She is active in medical student and physician suicide prevention and leads biannual retreats to help her colleagues heal from grief and trauma.

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23 comments on “It’s March 30th. Have you hugged your doctor?
  1. Jones says:

    Dr. Wible,
    I’m a nurse and I work in a hospital with doctors I KNOW are depressed but.. it’s an old boys club hospital so no one can have emotions. You are a breath of fresh air to me!
    THANK YOU for all you do for doctors and healthcare workers and AS a doctor. No one else can tell the truth but one of you.
    Hugs from Los Angeles. And HAPPY DOCTORS DAY!
    Jones RN

  2. Barbara and Dan Gleason says:

    If we can get away, we’d happily stop at your office to give you our Doctor’s Day hug! But, in case you aren’t there then, or if the store won’t let us sneak out, please consider yourself virtually hugged from a couple who feel so very fortunate to have YOU as our doctor! Wow! We are so blessed to be where we can be your patients!

  3. Stephanie Reitz says:

    Dr. Wible,
    I just wanted to take a moment to tell you HAPPY DOCTORS DAY!
    Reitz
    Pre-Med

  4. thanks
    i used to say to my patients
    i need to hug you because i felt bad about
    what they were experiencing that i couldn’t fix
    i realized in time the first words were i need
    and they all said we knew you needed it
    you don’t have to apologize

    • LuciCode says:

      Dear Bernie~
      You don’t know me~
      But I know you and Thank You often
      during my work day or after my clinic
      hours, or after having a patient touch
      my heart by telling me something
      important happening in their life,
      unrelated to the immediate doctor
      visit…

      We met several times over many years-
      First in NYC- when my mother was diagnosed with cancer-
      Then in Cambridge- when I was pre-Med…

      We haven’t met over the past 26 years- but your words are there- when I remember why I’m doing the work
      I do.

      So thank you Bernie. And thank you for your courage and honesty to talk about
      doctors work, doctors feelings, doctors needs, and our deep love for our
      Patients.

  5. Diane says:

    Right on Pamela!!! I have a collection of small gifts my patients have given me over the years. Everything from eagle feathers, to cards, to beadwork. (I spent most of my career on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.) One patient gave me a silver dollar minted in the same year her mother was born. These are among my most precious possessions and come out on my prayer table in rotation as I pray and meditate and gather the courage I need to go out every day and not only serve my patients but challenge and change a malignant medical system that has marginalized both health care professionals and patients.

    In an hour or so I will attend a Doctors Day Celebration at our local big box industrial health provider (I still do some work in the their ER) where a new lounge with fancy chairs and free food will be dedicated to us physicians. We will get gifts and administration will be there with big smiles, telling us how important we are while the pressure to cut costs (time with patients) and the burdens of documentation continue to mount.

    Give me a note from a patient and a jar of raspberries any day. My new ideal clinic has the huggingest waiting room in town! As likely as not the patient who is leaving hugs the one who is coming in and I’m hugging them both. Whole lot of healing going on both sides. Take heart physicians. We can take this back.

  6. I love you Pamela!!!!!! Sending a BIG hug to celebrate you today.

  7. Stuart Harnden says:

    Here’s wishing you many hugs today, and every day. You deserve them.

  8. Bruce says:

    Doctor Wible,

    HAPPY DOCTORS’ DAY To YOU !!!

  9. Janet Butler says:

    I hope your day was special. Just saw this. Wishing you all the best and glad you are my doctor! You are doing such great work.

  10. naltrexone says:

    This is a wonderful blog. Being a doctor can be sometimes difficult, but most of the times it is rewarding!

  11. naltrexone says:

    I wish that all the doctors get as much love as they deserve by doing so much for others!

  12. Paul says:

    True about docs and also mental health therapists. Oh my, the things therapists deal with! Thank you for your advocacy. It’s something that has been sorely needed.

  13. terry m bennett md mph says:

    The more I think of that weeping doc the madder and sadder I get
    Mad because a profession that used to prize empathy and interpersonal skills has been replaced by some kind of “heartless is good” mind set. Sad because my Dad warned me that it would come to this, that docs who took an Oath Of Hippocrates would be owned and controlled by bean counters, who took an Oath of Mammon. “We’ve come a long way baby”
    I have been that weeping doc, many times.

    You have busted your ass, done everything that you could imagine, and lost–only it isn’t some card game , it is “real life” only this time, despite all your will and skill ,it is “real death”.
    How can you just walk on, whistle a merry tune and go create computer records?

    Lastly, my Dad told me that if you are never quite off duty that miracles will happen.

    The rules are, “never let someone pay you for a miracle, or you will never get another”

    Terry B

  14. NO I haven’t hugged my doctor…. he kicked me in the balls instead.

    I am sorry for the doctor… office manager, doc wife, said I should feel sorry for them they need lawyers and politicians in the room Obama makes them not want to practice medicine… HEY FEEL SOMETHING FOR ME I AM SICK do something to help.
    YOUR FIRED patient… gee thanks again glad I could hire you to care for me…. SOME CRAP CARE.

    I am person that can use a doctor. I am sick blacklisted and just about hopeless.
    I am being made to suffer because a “good doctor” with a bad boss.

    why does everyone hate each other. I am being treated worse than a criminal and my doctor got bullied. He probably has died inside long ago he just goes thru the passes until it’s time to go to church to beg forgiveness again next sunday. good luck on that.
    At this point in my suffering I have been cast into the sand it will dry up and fade away like all these doctors that treat suffering. Thanks so much. I do not count.

    Doctors why do you hate each other? why do you hate me?
    Maybe its some of the scripted medications with the uncontrollable suicidal side …urges effects, that needs to be looked at. Ask your doctor… if these are right doctor if these are right for you… You are doing this to yourselves and us…
    This is the new normal doc you created. Do something about it. My good dr killed me. Hope it don’t bother him. It hurts to be abandoned aren’t doctors supposed to help.
    In NYS doctor can do whatever they please anyway they please. I will never go to another doctor . the worst part no one cares to help…. and if it happened to me it could be you. wear my shoes for the day. My good doctor killed me. NO HUGS for any of them. no one will help me . I am dying more by the moment in NYS

  15. Ruth T says:

    I wish I had a Doctor I could at least thank. My current primary care physician refuses to refer me to a podiatrist or any other specialist or try herself to find out the cause of the horrible, painful, non-healing wounds on my two feet. She claims I injured myself, but I didn’t. And at my last visit my blood pressure was way up – I have congestive heart failure – and I asked about it, about treatment or what – she said she was not concerned about it.

  16. Jed Diamond says:

    Pamela, Thanks for doing this. Hugs to you and all the docs who are making a differences and changing the system.

  17. Carol Tova says:

    Sending you wishes for a Happy Day (everyday actually) and THANKS Doc Pamela! You’re a gem. I spread the word.
    Enjoy Spring!

  18. Elliott Bettman, MD says:

    Everyone have a Happy Doctor Day

  19. Patricia J Ritchie says:

    All the best to you today Dr. Wible!

  20. Carol McCarty says:

    Happy Doctors Day to my Dr. Grantham at MEA Clinic in Clinton, Mississippi! And Happy Dr. Day to you Dr. Wible! God Bless You both!

    He has a great staff, too!

  21. Jessica Arner says:

    HAPPY DR’S DAY, DR. WIBLE!!! YOU’RE THE BEST! 😉

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