Welcome back to our podcast, The Patients Speak. Our guest today is a physician, medical executive, and medical director in the Cedar Sinai Medical Group. Dr. Alen Voskanian. Dr. V oversees about 300 physicians in a multispecialty practice that includes primary care and medical specialties of all kinds, including pediatrics and OB/Gyn, and is the author of a terrific new book, Reclaiming the Joy of Medicine.

(A note from Dr V: “I wear many different hats. So today, in this conversation, I’m representing myself as an author and the work I’ve done in terms of burnout, my own burnout, the experience of other physicians who have burned out. So, that’s why I wrote this book. It’s truly my own personal opinion and not my organization’s.)

In today’s interview we discussed Dr. V’s new book, Reclaiming the Joy of Medicine and physician burnout. We also talked about the role empathy plays in medicine and the power of the healing touch.

“My focus has always been on the patient side and how can we make that experience great for our patients? But then as a physician and as an executive, I realized that if our physicians are feeling burned out, that has a direct impact on the patients.”

Reclaiming the Joy of Medicine – BURNOUT

In Dr. Voskanian’s book he writes about the topic of burnout. He says it causes a lack of ability for physicians to extend compassion and empathy to their patients when their tank is empty.

What is one of their biggest root causes of burnout doctors complain about?

  • The amount of time they spend in front of the computer instead of in front of their patients.
  • They are not making eye contact because there are a lot of policies and mandates that require the use of electronic health records. Lots of clicks on a computer and less face to face.
  • When physicians end up leaving the room, they spend a lot of time in front of their computers doing what we call “desktop medicine”.

The time doctors are spending at home when they should be spending time with their families, they’re spending it in front of their computer at home after work. On average, a primary care doctor spends about 90 minutes and some people argue it’s much more than that. In Dr. Voskanian’s book he interviewed a lot of doctors. Some of them were saying it’s two to three hours after they get home, they spend in front of the computer. He explains it’s not good for doctors, and it’s not good for our patients either.


Dr. V says that’s been a point of debate over the years.

Do you have empathy? Are you born with empathy? Can you learn empathy?

He feels like a lot of people who go into healthcare have empathy. That is why he wrote the book about finding that purpose that drove people into this field. Empathy can be trained.

There’s minor behaviors that people have that they’re not aware of that leads to a feeling of lack of empathy.

  • listening to people
  • making eye contact,
  • repeating what you hear
  • acknowledging what a patient just shared with you is difficult and painful.

The Power of the Healing Touch

When cure is not possible, Dr. V has learned that healing is always possible. It’s that small touch. It’s that small acknowledgement that you let someone else be seen.

  • The joy in that you made a difference in someone’s life. Dr. V explains it’s unfortunate when physicians forget about that aspect of being a doctor.
  • Being a doctor, being in healthcare in general is such a privilege when you are sitting in a room with a patient and you can just make a small difference to make their life better, how can you not have joy from that?
  • If you can’t get joy from that, that leads to burnout.
  • Remember that why and get joy from making that improvement in someone else’s life.

“It’s truly the art of medicine. The art of medicine is knowing when it’s needed and when it’s the right way to hold someone’s hand. And maybe those are all the arts that are harder to teach someone. But I think it’s powerful.”

Dr. Alen Voskanian book Reclaiming the Joy of Medicine is available on Amazon.

Dr. Voskanian shared some very powerful insights from a physician and patient perspective and we are grateful for the opportunity to sit down and talk with him. We hope you enjoy today’s episode.

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