Saturday, September 13, 2008

Business to Bone Setting...Seeing Emotions in the Hospital

Last night was my first call shift back after a year away. It was also the official end of my first week back in the medical saddle after a year away in the classroom. It's amazing that after one week I am already remembering many of the things that I learned over a year ago. That includes both theoretical knowledge and skills. It's easy to fall back into old habits and routines (like my 2 hour nap on the couch post-call. It was delicious). There is one thing that I see differently having been away for a year.

I have now witnessed the patient experience in several of its forms over the past week. What I mean by this is the way that personality manifests itself in times of trauma and sickness. I think that many physicians (and providers in general) become numb to the human element of medicine after several years of practice. Having been away I am now better able to appreciate the manifestation of emotions that occur in patients. I actually feel the anxiety, strife and relief again. I had lost that ability before I left and relied mostly on cool clinical reasoning and logic in my patient interactions.

I'm glad that I can see these emotions again. The question in my mind is: How sustainable can empathizing with these emotions be over a busy career? Can a doctor maintain a close connection with all patients and try to step into their shoes, if only for a moment? I find it hard to even appreciate how it would be to spend more than a day fasting for surgery, let alone coping with multiple fractures and long periods of non-weightbearing, bed rest and pain.

In several months I will look back on this blog and respond. Has anyone else tried to keep their humanity while tending to the technical aspects of medicine? Has anyone reading this met human providers? Share a comment if you have.


Karyn's thoughts! said...

Having been a patient and also working alongside physicians I think, in my opinion, you have captured what makes a great physician. We often say on the ward that a great physician is one who can empathize with the patient and not come off as the all-knowing physician with lots of medical knowledge and no understanding and empathy.

Just my thoughts....

Dr. Jesse Shantz said...

Thanks Karyn! I also think that becoming a great physician involves never accepting that you are a great physician. I'm going to keep trying to get better and hopefully I hear the suggestions that people make.