INTERVIEW WITH ULRIKE BERTH, MD, FASA
What guided your decision to go into medicine and specifically, your chosen field?
My decision to go into medicine was a very personal one. My twin sister was born with multiple medical problems, likely due to fetal to fetal transfusion syndrome. Growing up and seeing here spending weeks, more often months at a time in the hospital and realizing once old enough that her medical problems won’t go away, I wanted to do more than to just be with her and support her. Becoming a doctor was the only thing that made sense and it led me to my journey.
Finding the right specialty took a bit more time. I definitely knew I didn’t want to do any office based specialty such as internal medicine. To be honest I feel there is nothing wrong with internal medicine, however, my passion was to find a specialty where I would get my “hands dirty” and do procedures, keep up with everything I learned in medical school, and have interactions with patients without being tied to an office.
Anesthesiology fit the bill. I was taking care of patients that needed me in their most dire of times undergoing surgery. I was doing all kinds of medical procedures and I had to keep up with everything I had learned in medical school. Pharmacology, medicine, and surgery are all things that an anesthesiologist needs to know and keep up with as they are relevant every single day. An internship in Anesthesiology at Mount Sinai convinced me to be an Anesthesiologist and I never looked back. Yes, I would choose Anesthesia again if I had to!
“It takes special attention, insight, and sensitivity to pick up on these different personalities and engage patients accordingly. When the patient feels that you “speak” their language, trust can be established quickly.”
What is the most important factor in the doctor/patient relationship and why?
Trust! Trust is the most important factor in a doctor/patient relationship in my mind, as it lays the foundation for a productive, caring, and long lasting relationship between a doctor and his or her patient.
However, trust is not a one-way street – especially as an anesthesiologist where we meet patients merely minutes before a life-changing or life-saving surgery. It is important to establish a level of trust quickly. Therefore, it’s important to be able to “read” patients in a way to best gauge how to approach them. Some patients are very nervous, but hide it well with jokes. Some patients want to know nothing, while others want to know everything. It takes special attention, insight, and sensitivity to pick up on these different personalities and engage patients accordingly. When the patient feels that you “speak” their language, trust can be established quickly. It’s a daily challenge that I accept and embrace as an anesthesiologist as it is well established that a trusting doctor patient relationship leads to improved patient care and a reduction in patient morbidity and mortality.
What are the most important qualities for a doctor to have?
Communication is one of the most important parts of a physician’s daily clinical practice and physicians require great communication skills – speaking and listening – when it comes to patient interaction. Along with compassion, trustworthiness, and the ability to relate, these qualities in my mind sum up the most important qualities in a doctor.
What makes you different from other doctors in your field?
I believe it takes a special person to become an anesthesiologist and deal with the variety of patients and their underlying medical conditions. No patient is alike and critical thinking is essential, as is quick adaptability. I have many amazing colleagues, but my experience of spending many hours worrying about my sister, whether she was in the hospital undergoing one of her many surgeries or at home recovering, enables me to approach my patients differently. Knowing what it feels like to be on the other side gave me the understanding and insight to be more compassionate to my patients and their family members. Having such compassion enables me to create a trusting connection with my patients and their families in the very short time we have together before surgery.
I understand their fears, I understand why they cry, I understand why they are scared, I understand why they’re sometimes rude, I understand why they have so many questions, and I understand why they question me. I understand because I’ve been in their shoes. Not wishing anyone this experience, it changed me. It changed me in a way that I can honestly say: I treat every patient like family.
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
Growing up in East Germany with travel restricted to only surrounding former east-block countries, I always had the travel/exploring fever. The urge to see this big world is actually what brought me initially to the US. Over the years I have been very fortunate to be able to travel near and far. However, a trip to South Africa in 2014 made me literally fall in love with this amazing continent. The fascinating nature and animal world, the insanely diverse cultures and people just take my breath away every time I visit Africa, which has been every year since 2014. The peace and serenity one finds is indescribable and has become for me a wonderful balance to my often stressful, but very much loved and rewarding, work back home.
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner. What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
Knowledge is power and I want my patients to be powerful when it comes to making medical decisions that best suit them. Providing patients with information and support enables them to actively participate in their own care, by understanding their medical needs and being able to ask relevant questions. Doctorpedia provides this platform. No matter what medical problem you need information on, you will likely find it here! You’ll find information in a concise, easy to understand way and the information provided comes from a physician specialist in their respective field, so you know you are getting relevant information as we are all practicing physicians taking care of patients on a daily basis.
What problems do physicians and patients face that Doctorpedia can help solve?
Misinformation is a big problem that a lot of patients and doctors are faced with today. Doctorpedia is a trusted source that provides accurate patient information. It allows the patient to get relevant and updated information from expert physicians creating a foundation for knowledge and education for patients.
“Knowledge is power and I want my patients to be powerful when it comes to making medical decisions that best suit them. Providing patients with information and support enables them to actively participate in their own care, by understanding their medical needs and being able to ask relevant questions. Doctorpedia provides this platform.”
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a doctor?
That is very easy! I love animals. Quite frankly, animals were always my first love. Growing up with many different animals, including horses, I always thought I’d own a big farm and become a professional horseback rider. Maybe after I retire from medicine!
Ulrike Berth, MD
Dr. Berth is board certified in Anesthesiology. In addition to being the Founder and President of MedXScience, Dr. Berth is a Doctorpedia Founding Medical Partner and the Chief Medical Officer of Doctorpedia's Anesthesiology channel.