Doctors as Patients – Maybe This Should be Part of Med School?

From time to time I’ll read an article written by a doctor about his or her experience as a patient.  Several have written books about their experiences, and what they learned from them.

Often their own patient-hood causes some sort of epiphany.  That “aha!” moment that helps them GET IT.  Their work is no longer their job, or their career.  It becomes a total understanding of how their patients feel, how they are fearful, confused, frustrated and anxious. It creates empathy.

This came to mind today because I found two articles that address the subject.  The first was published in Healthy, edited by Amber Smith of the Syracuse Post Standard (the newspaper that carries my biweekly column) — called Doctors As Patients, it tells the stories of five doctors who had their own experiences as patients and all of whom feel much better prepared to do their work now.

The second was an article about Dr. Ron Davis, president of the AMA (American Medical Association) and his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  I’ve blogged about his article on my About.com site.

Regardless of their experiences, most doctors will still never “purely” understand the feelings of inadequacy each patient feels when it comes to understanding his or her medical problem.  No doctor can ever subtract his or her knowledge.  Further, when a doctor goes into treatment, there is still a professional courtesy that goes along with it.  Regardless of what form all that takes, the experience is still different.

But if I had my choice?  I’d most certainly choose a doctor who’s been in that very vulnerable position of having been a patient himself or herself.  That doctor will most definitely be more empathetic. It’s a perspective that will serve him or her well in practice, for sure.

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2 comments

    • K on October 15, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Just as the police departments show new recruits how the tazors work, I think all physicians should have to go through an annual review of their facility(ies) to see what their patients will be experiencing.

    I also would love every doctor to be forced to watch a few editions of “House”, just to see what a phenomenal (albeit fictitious) doctor will do to diagnose their patients.

    Are we, the patient, not the “customer” to have the say whether or not our treatment was satisfactory? I would like to know when we were sidestepped for the insurance company(ies).

  1. Good question, K — but I don’t believe the doctors are any happier about insurance companies than we are. The problem is, they gave up on fighting the insurance companies for their “due” a long time ago.

    As far as providing them with patient experiences, don’t forget — you can never subtract their knowledge. They need to have the full experience before they learn how to overcome it — otherwise it’s not really so effective.

    Just like you could never subtract your ability to read, they can’t subtract their knowledge of medicine.

    Thanks for posting.

    Trisha

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