COMMENTARY: Doctoring With a Heart

love a changed personWhen you visit a medical specialist, an emergency room, or a patient in the hospital, are you ever struck by a sense that many doctors are so focused on the scientific aspects of diagnosis and treatment of illness or injury that they ignore, maybe even become annoyed by, things like pain, fear, or anxiety?

In her book Medicine as Ministry, Dr. Margaret Mohrmann, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia, proposes a dramatically different perspective. If accepted, it could drastically change the nature of medical training and treatment.

She contends that doctors tend to view their roles and responsibilities too narrowly. The ultimate object of medicine, she says, is not just to diagnose and cure disease, but to alleviate suffering. In other words, doctors should see themselves as healers, not merely scientists.

“The practice of the ministry of medicine,” she adds, “is the practice of paying attention.” Being attentive means sensing, treating seriously, and responding appropriately to the myriad feelings that inevitably accompany illness and injury.

In her view, the most needed remedy for the kinds of suffering doctors face daily is not more or better painkilling drugs, but more genuine caring. She says doctors should listen more even if it makes them weep. She believes true compassion and empathy are healing agents for pain and anxiety. Genuine gestures of concern – from a comforting squeeze of the hand to a follow-up phone call or visit – can be as important as prescriptions and surgical procedures.

I think she’s right. It takes a kind of moral courage for a doctor to keep an open heart. But what a huge difference it would make.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 3

  1. I agree with Dr. Morhmann, but what she is describing is the practice of nursing. It would be wonderful for doctors to also approach their patients in a more empathetic way.

  2. For about 20 years now my wife and I have been blessed to have such a doctor. Dr George Moutoussis is a very kind and compassionate physician who has often gone above and beyond the call of duty in caring for us and many of his other patients.

    My late mother also was blessed with a similar doctor, Dr. Michal Wall. When my dear mom passed away in 2010 Dr. Wall came to her funeral and remained with our family for a long time, and even speak words of comfort to various members of our family. She was especially helpful when she spoke to one of my daughters who was having a very tough time dealing with her beloved grandmother’s death.

    Even though doctors can not cure every illness that is out there it most certainly helps his patients to know that their doctor genuinely cares. The two doctors mentioned are worthy of honor for “Doctoring With A Heart”.

  3. Dr. Mohrmann’s perspective is laudable but not financially realistic with an adult practice. Never the less, doing one’s best to alleviate mental and emotional suffering is needed. When you think about it, why does any person go to a doctor (teacher). It is because they have lost control, they feel trapped and powerless to remove their pain/problem. Pain often serves an emotional purpose. Our job in the health field should be to return that control to them so that they can live a better life, mentally, physically emotionally and spiritually. Thinks well, move well, eat well.

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