The price of being a compassionate doctor is often worth it

Watching patients suffer and die is not an easy thing to do. Left unchecked, I don’t think most front-line doctors would last too long immersed in that kind of setting.  First, the emotional toll would be too high to maintain over a long period of time. Second, working at the extremes of emotion doesn’t allow a physician to competently and objectively apply medical knowledge to heal disease and alleviate suffering. Not convinced? Imagine you get terrible news about something or someone, or are as angry as you could possibly be. Now, while still feeling that way, go take a high-stakes exam or give a presentation to a large audience. It would be tough, if not impossible, to do, right? If you could get through it, I’m certain it wouldn’t be your best work. Well, this emotional effect can hinder doctors too if we’re not careful.

In late medical school and residency training, for the sake of emotional self-preservation, doctors are forced to learn through firsthand experience, and by watching their mentors, how to emotionally detach just enough to remain effective. In fact, this lesson in medicine is so important that it has been written about. In an incredibly popular book called House of God, the author takes a satirical and comedic look at intern year of medical training and outlines hospital rule #4: “The patient is the one with the disease.”  Now, the author’s intent wasn’t to be insensitive toward patients at all, but instead to convey a serious message to aspiring doctors. To survive working amid suffering and dying, the doctor must make a conscious effort not to fully enter the suffering of every patient. Please understand, however, there is certainly a balance to this approach. The goal is for the physician to remain compassionate and caring, not a cold, robotic healer in a white coat.

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Tags: Health, Physician, Oncology/Hematology


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