The first year of medical school is deeply rooted in science and facts. During this time, my peers and I endeavor to fill our minds with copious amounts of information about every inch of the human body. When the tests roll around, our task is simple: choose the right answer. When I began medical school, I believed all aspects of the medical profession revolved around this fundamental task. A good doctor is one who chooses the right answer. He or she makes the right diagnosis, orders the right test, and gives the right medicines. It was simple to me, but my medical journey has compelled me to reconsider this definition of a good doctor.
In this definition, I failed to acknowledge an important aspect of the medical profession: the doctor-patient-family relationship. “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver beautifully illustrates this point. The doctor in the story is a proficient diagnostician, but fails to adequately communicate with the patient’s family. Instead of with the doctor, the patient’s family finds comfort with a baker. The unwavering hope that the family places in the doctor and the doctor’s failure to properly convey information seems like a betrayal to his primary role as caretaker. But according to my original definition, the doctor is a good diagnostician and therefore a good doctor. A revision must be made.
A good amount of thought has brought me to this conclusion: a good doctor is one who not only comforts physically, but also mentally. Much hope and trust is placed on a health care professional. How the professional deals with this burden defines his character. As “A Small, Good Thing” illustrates, too little compassion can leave the patient devastated, miserable and lost. By providing guidance and emotional support, as well as by listening to the patient, a doctor can ameliorate a patient’s suffering. And that is what being a doctor is all about.
A selfish part of me insists that partaking in the patient’s suffering must be a draining task for the doctor. To understand the patient’s pain, the doctor must invest himself in the patient’s story. Building such an intimate relationship requires significant emotional investment. This is bound to take a toll on the doctor’s own well-being. To the contrary, effectively communicating with the patient can be a highly gratifying experience. By deciding to become a doctor, I have committed myself to a lifelong journey of learning. Each patient brings a rich plethora of stories, emotions, and experiences that I can experience by simply talking to him or her. Each new story brings the promise of a unique lesson or message. Perhaps this is what makes the medical profession so noble and enticing: that we can persistently strive to be wiser and more worthy caretakers.