“How Doctors Think is a window into the mind of the physician and an insightful examination of the all-important relationship between doctors and their patients.” This is an excerpt from the back cover of the book, and after reading the first two chapters, I can attest to its validity. Several anecdotes are given by the author (Dr. Jerome Groopman) and his colleagues regarding instances in their career where the patient-doctor relationship’s significance became all too clear.
There’s a particular statement at the end of chapter two which concisely yet directly addresses what I’ve learned so far.
Patients and their loved ones swim together with physicians in a sea of feelings. Each needs to keep an eye on a neutral shore where flags are planted to warn of perilous emotional currents.
Doctors may like any given patient for any given reason. By the same token, doctors may be perturbed by a chain smoker coming in for meds to take the edge off his/her end-stage emphysema. Does this mean that doctors should focus more on the technical perspective of medicine rather than the emotional aspect? Of course not. Without a sound relationship between a physician and the patient, many critical components to an accurate diagnosis may be entirely missed.
As a future physician, it’s important to understand that emotional attachment can be dangerous. For example, if I really like a particular patient, I’ll subconsciously try to avoid the possibility of proclaiming a terminal diagnosis. After years of relating to the patient and having him confide in me, would I really want to explore the possibility that the stomach pains he presented with could be more than simple indigestion? At this point, I know very little about “real” medicine, so it’s easy for me to think that I’ll never fall for such a trap. I’d like to think that I can keep my technical skills separate from my emotions, but I foresee the gap closing once I get thrown into the medical environment and have to treat real patients with real diseases.
Being mindful of emotions seems like a relatively trivial concept, but reading about great doctors succumbing to their feelings only to realize that many of their patients died due to a simple oversight is a bit eye-opening.