Healing Clinician-Associated Trauma: A Call For Connection


By Kara Wada, MD

Our modern existence is a state of perpetual disconnection.

Earbuds in. Staring down at our screens. Avoiding eye contact.

Disconnected from each other and ourselves, we go about our lives in adult parallel play.

Numbing any hint of uncomfortable feelings with more Netflix or scrolling.

The social, political, and health consequences of this existence have accelerated over the last three years. As a result, the physician-patient relationship is more fractured than ever. Physicians are asked to see more patients in less time, check more boxes, optimize billing, and keep saying yes because that is, after all, what doctors do.

All the while, we cannot fully realize and live the values that led us to this vocation.

The reason so many of us took on 8+ years of education and hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational debt.

How far we have drifted away from the ideal.

Away from healing therapeutic connection.

Instead …

We are exhausted. Burnout is disengagement.

Survival mode is mechanical.


And here are our patients.

Especially those marginalized.

Brown. Female. LGBTQ+. Invisibly ill. Disabled. Poor. Uninsured. Hungry.

Yearning to feel safe.

To be witnessed.

To be heard, seen, and believed.


Instead …

Churned through the system.

A trip on the medical conveyor belt running at double speed.

Your fatigue? Depression and a referral to psychiatry.

Shortness of breath? Lose 30 lbs. and referred to pulmonary.

Stomach aches? Anxiety and referral to GI.

Joint pain? Tired mom and referral to rheumatology.

Perhaps in many instances, there is some truth to those statements.

And yet, how much healing is going to result from those interactions?

So goes the game of hot potato on a diagnostic odyssey.

Navigating the medical bureaucracy, insurance, and bills.

Fostering more distrust of the establishment and maybe of science too. It’s recorded as the next viral TikTok; #medicalgaslighting or the new term coined this month: “Clinician-associated traumatization.”

At some point, desperate for relief, they may resort to buying the unicorn tear supplement their favorite influencer is peddling as a promised cure or another of the modern-day snake oil cures being touted.

All the while, a thorough expert medical evaluation is delayed for many months or years; diagnosis and a holistic approach to treatment are delayed.

So what do we do?

-Recognize that trauma is universal to all of us, so often it is inflicted by the medical institution and hurt people hurt people.

-Realizing that we don’t have all the answers and admitting we don’t know isn’t a bad thing.

-Respect that our patients come to us with their lived experiences, expertise, and intelligence.

-Respond with curiosity and compassion, especially when frustrated or don’t understand.

-Restore agency and autonomy in sharing the decision-making process.

-Repair the connection by rebuilding trust.

-Resist the forces that demand more of us and draw us further away from our core values and healing human connection.

Most importantly, we must celebrate the synergy between patient and physician.

Magic arises from our mirror neurons; we connect and co-regulate when we communicate. Remember that at our deepest, most biologic level, we all yearn to be seen, heard, and believed.

Kara Wada is a board-certified academic adult and pediatric allergy, immunology, and lifestyle medicine physician, Sjogren’s patient, certified life coach, TEDx speaker, and Dr. Midwest 2023.


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