Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Empathy is probably one of the most popular answers to medical interview questions such as "skills required to be a doctor." Empathy is essentially the skill to be able to feel another person's feelings. To be entirely seems like it is a skill that you LOSE, not gain as your career progresses. As a medical student, I treat the patients with a lot of respect and take the time to listen to them and try to empathize and sympathize with them. It is definitely not an easy task. There are countless amount of times where I found myself fake sympathizing/empathizing with patients as I sometimes find it very difficult to place myself in his or her shoes. And some of you may think why you "lose" your empathy skill as you progress through your career. Obviously this is a generalization and there are definitely lots of consultants out there who are really good at empathizing with patients; however, there are some where you start questioning their bedside manners.

I really don't blame the consultants for not empathizing with patients. After doing your job for 30-something years, you might not be as interested in it as you were 30 years ago. Some consultants have extremely busy schedules and it is a shame they don't take the time to empathize with patients. With an aging population, we now see a lot of elderly patients on the wards with chronic conditions. These patients might be in for their 10th surgery on their hip, for example. Sometimes it is unfortunate that surgeons/doctors don't acknowledge these things. Yeah you need to fix a patient's hip, but after having so many surgeries, it is obviously going to affect the patient psychologically and socially. I know there are some doctors who believe in holistic medicine. These doctors would tend to all the needs of the patient: psychological, physical, and social. I feel like the patients who have these sort of doctors feel like they are cared for and sometimes I guess it is pretty frustrating to be tossed between 5 different teams in a hospital as consultants won't know you as well.

Then we start to asking the question: are doctors too specialized? I mean just under orthopaedics, we've got consultants who specialize in only hip replacements, or hand surgery, etc. With such specialized doctors, we start to realize that these doctors start to lose knowledge about other systems in the body. In hospital for hip replacement but have a breathing problem so the orthopod has to refer you to the respiratory team. Are we becoming too one dimensional? It's definitely a tough argument. By having such specialized doctors/surgeons, we get people who are excellent at their field. If we have a bunch of doctors who knows a bit of everything...well we get doctors who are just good at everything and not excellent in anything. It's a tough argument, but to be honest, I would much prefer having a very specialized doctor as I would know for sure that he or she is fantastic at treating a certain condition or performing certain surgical procedures. If my life is at risks...I would obviously want the best and only the best.

Hmm...think I got a bit off topic there. Anyways empathy. It is a shame that some doctors lose this skill and overlook a patient's social/psychological well-being. But like I said earlier...I really don't blame them. I hope I will still be good at empathizing with patients 30 years down the line, but I know it will be something I will have to keep reminding myself to do. What's the point of being rude to patients? You gain nothing. Might as well be nice and listen to them and make their stay at the hospital better. Easy to say...hard to do.

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