During my M3 rotations, I believe I have learned as much about medicine as I have about humanity. I’ve come to appreciate that to perform well in this profession, we must embrace both its scientific and human elements.
While medical practice demands technical skills like competency and precision, these traits are of little use if not accompanied by the humanistic traits of empathy and introspection. For example, physicians in the ICU must consider which aspects of a patient’s medical care should be prioritized when a patient is acutely sick and requires immediate intervention. When making such high-pressure decisions, they must integrate objective data with subjective input from patients’ loved ones in the context of an often-fraught emotional environment. Similarly, surgeons must have immense technique and skill, but also the humility to recognize the privilege of not only entering a patient’s life, but their physical body. In psychiatry, the medical side can quickly become a game of medication shuffle in the face of subjective diagnoses, but by creating meaningful relationships and having intentional conversations with patients, unique, patient-centered therapeutic plans can be developed. Lastly, OBGYNs have the privilege of entering into the most intimate and vulnerable parts of their patients’ lives — on both a physical and emotional level — and must strike a balance of assuredness and humility. In all medical settings, empathy is essential to navigate the complexity of a patient’s relationships, morals and values, especially in the context of such life-and-death circumstances.
Addressing patient care through a purely clinical lens can make a patient seem like simply a laundry list of problems to address. Impersonal medical workups can turn into a checklist, becoming frustrating and expensive for patients instead of yielding the most beneficial and pertinent information. Surgeries can feel dull and tedious, subspecialty consults can become algorithmic and even emergency care becomes detached and jaded. Without the emotional side of medicine, the clinical side’s administrative hurdles and monotonous days will ultimately lead to burnout; after all, it’s far less fulfilling to treat a disease than to serve a human being. With this in mind, finding physician role models who practice truly humanistic medicine can be inspiring. I have met many such leaders in my first clinical year and I would follow these consummate professionals anywhere. It is my hope that one day I can do the same: be pragmatic and competent, while still compassionate and reflective.