Oh, how we all learn and change with our experiences. It’s one of the greatest things in life that most of us (hopefully) are not the same person now that we were a few years ago. Looking back to when I first become a physician at the age of 22 (yes, that’s the typical age that most medical students across the world become doctors, because medical school comes straight after high school pretty much everywhere else), I often have to shake my head with the way I thought about and handled certain situations. I’ve written previously about such incidents, but one of the biggest ways I think I’ve matured since then, with increased experience working in the medical field and interacting with more people, is generally becoming a lot less judgmental than I used to be.
I’m happy to admit and own up to that—despite always being professional and polite to patients since I was first sent out onto the wards, and doing my diligent duty—I know that I used to have a tendency to internally judge certain people I interacted with. The 50-year-old 2-pack a day smoker on disability benefits, who has now got COPD. The 45-year-old electrician, who has 12 children with five different women. The 18-year-old single mom on her 3rd child. The 63-year old morbidly obese patient with diabetes, who just won’t take their medications. And oh yes, the 32-year-old alcoholic who is being admitted for the 5th time this year with withdrawal. The list could go on. I would frequently drive home at night, thinking negative thoughts about some of the people I met and reflect on the sorry state of the world. Of course, we are all human, and I don’t care how much of a professional clinician you are—a negative thought or two about a patient you are in front of—will occasionally zip through your head.
However, the biggest way that I have changed in this area, which took me a few years, is to follow the advice to just completely focus on my duty as a physician and never pass judgment on the human being in front of you needing help. You are a trained professional there to treat that person medically. Do your job and use your amazing skills to get that person better. Say what you need to, to get your patient on the right track, and offer them your well-meaning and affable advice. You are not going to magically change people, fix their lives, or cure society’s ills. That’s not what you do as a doctor (the same applies to being a nurse or any other health care professional). You can only do your best, and ultimately every clinician who is able to adopt this philosophy, is much happier too.
My uncle, who has watched me grow up, just sent me a Christmas card with a quote attached:
Doctors are subject to certain professional obligations. The Hippocratic Oath demands that they treat everyone to the same high standard regardless of gender, nationality, religion or politeness! They must even afford the same standards of care to a murderer and the victim’s family. Sometimes, this must be challenging. Sometimes, it must seem unfair. But they have a duty — one that must be done without prejudice or discrimination.
Judging patients negatively is also intrinsically tied to this. So doctor, leave the patient’s fortunes to karma, fate, or whatever else. And at this festive and holy time of the year for so many, it’s always worth reminding ourselves: Leave any judgment only to God.
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