March 30th is National Doctor’s Day in the United States.
The story of how this day came to be is as strange as it is fascinating. It arose out of recreational drug use, which was in vogue in the 1840s.
I want to share the story about Doctor’s Day with you. More importantly, I want to tell a broader story about how physicians impact our lives beyond the obvious.
If you are a physician, I hope this honors you and the sacrifices you make each and every day in service to patients like me. Thank you for what you do.
It All Started at Parties Called “Frolics”
Dr. Crawford Williamson Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia. He pursued his formal medical education at Transylvania College in Kentucky and the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1841, at the age of 26, Dr. Long returned to Jefferson, Georgia and started his medical practice. During this time, a new fad had developed: Inhaling nitrous oxide (i.e. laughing gas) at parties some called “frolics.”
It was as a participant and supplier at these “frolics” that Dr. Long observed how those who fell and suffered minor injuries while under the influence of ether, were oblivious to pain.
This led to his theory that ether could be used as an anesthetic in surgical procedures.
On March 30, 1842, Dr. Long was able to test his theory, when he surgically removed a cyst from James Venable’s neck, while Venable was under the influence of ether. It was a historic moment in modern medicine — the first use of anesthesia in surgery.
Eudora Brown Almond’s Resolution
Ninety-one years later, in Winder, Georgia, Dr. Charles B. Almond’s wife, Eudora, sparked an idea — a day should be set aside to honor physicians through acts of kindness, gifts and tributes.
The day chosen was March 30th, in honor of the anniversary of Dr. Long’s first administration of anesthesia in surgery.
According to several records, on the first Doctor’s Day cards were mailed to physicians and their wives, flowers were placed on the graves of deceased doctors (including Dr. Long) and Dr. and Mrs. William T. Randolph hosted a formal dinner at their house. Toasts were offered during the meal calling for continued observances of Doctor’s Day.
And, gradually, this observance began to spread.
In 1958, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing Doctor’s Day. And on October 30, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed what became Public Law 101-473 designating March 30th as National Doctor’s Day.
Doctors’ Impact on Society
It goes without saying that physicians have played a huge role in the advancement of modern medicine. But many have made significant contributions beyond the practice of medicine.
- William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician and general practitioner in New Jersey. In addition to his full-time medical work, he also emerged as one of the leading figures in modern poetry. And he influenced and mentored new generations of poets, including the Beats, Black Mountain Poets and the New York School.
- Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of the classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, was a neurologist and psychiatrist.
- I’m reading a biography on Dr. David Livingstone with my younger son. He was a pioneer medical missionary in Africa as well as a travel writer.
- Although he never practiced medicine, the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka, passed his medical exams and faced a career crisis when he had to choose between being an artist or physician.
- Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile, was a distinguished neurologist.
Physicians have been among our great writers, politicians, inventors, social activists, researchers, athletes, astronauts, pioneers, statesmen, philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, educators, adventurers, entrepreneurs, musicians and artists through the centuries.
It’s a Tough Time to Be a Doctor
Mommas once wanted their babies to grow up to be doctors and lawyers and such.
Times have changed.
One of my core areas of focus is researching and writing about trends impacting physicians, their practices and their outlook on the profession.
Over the four years we’ve surveyed physicians, we’re seeing a growing discontent among physicians from all specialties and regions of the country.
One of the most shocking findings came last year.
When asked if they would recommend the medical profession to a young person, 59 percent of physicians said no. Decreased autonomy and reimbursements, increased time away from patients dealing with administrative and regulatory hassles, the corporatization of medicine, fear of litigation and longer hours are key reasons driving this.
And these realities aren’t going away any time soon.
I Have My Father to Thank
As the son of a pharmacist-turned-hospital-CEO, I literally grew up hanging around hospitals.
As a kid, we ate Sunday lunches at the hospital. My dad let me shadow him at work as early as middle school. I got to tag along with him to visit the homes of hospital employees and physicians.
In college, I worked as a runner between clinical departments. My first “real job” was with an orthopedic surgeon. And my career has spanned occupational medicine, geriatric psychiatry, health system planning and marketing and medical office property management.
As I reflect on all the things my father has taught me, one theme stands out: We must enable and equip our physicians so they can best serve patients.
My dad is a physician champion. Always has been and still is. His actions, not just his words, have reinforced this.
And, over the last five years, I have had the privilege of working with an organization led by a man who is also a physician champion. I get to go to work each day to think about how our family of companies can better serve physicians and hospitals.
It’s Time to Thank Our Doctors
On March 30th, please take a moment and reach out to the physicians who care for you and your family. And please thank them.
Thank them for choosing to do what they do. They are parents, brothers, sisters and children just like you and me. But their work comes with significant sacrifices and stresses unknown to many of us.
I want to live in a world in which more kids want to be doctors. And I want to live in a world in which our doctors are regularly celebrated for their sacrifices and contributions to society.
In celebrating physicians — while not denying the harsh realities of being a practicing physician in today’s world — we can, in time, revitalize the medical profession in our communities and culture.
This begins with storytelling.
The more stories we can tell about who physicians are, what they do and why they do what they do, the more we can influence our children. And theirs.
If you have a physician story to tell, please write it in the comments. I would love to hear it.
Want to Learn More about National Doctor’s Day and Dr. Crawford W. Long?
- National Doctor’s Day Site
- How March 30th Came to Be Doctor’s Day by Rod K. Calverly
- Crawford W. Long Museum
- About Dr. Crawford W. Long