This highly acclaimed book examines how the quality of medical care is influenced by what doctors feel—the fear, anxiety, empathy, and even love that impact patient care
While much has been written about the minds and methods of the medical professionals who save our lives, precious little has been said about their emotions. Physicians are assumed to be objective, rational beings, easily able to detach as they guide patients and families through some of life’s most challenging moments. But understanding doctors’ emotional responses to the life-and-death dramas of everyday practice can make all the difference on giving and getting the best medical care.
Digging deep into the lives of doctors, Dr. Danielle Ofri examines the daunting range of emotions—shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair, and sometimes even love—that permeate the contemporary doctor-patient connection. Drawing on scientific studies, including some surprising research, Dr. Ofri offers up an unflinching look at the impact of emotions on health care.
Dr. Ofri takes us into the swirling heart of patient care, telling stories of caregivers caught up and occasionally torn down by the whirlwind life of doctoring. She admits to the humiliation of an error that nearly killed one of her patients. She mourns when a beloved patient is denied a heart transplant. She tells the riveting stories of an intern traumatized when she is forced to let a newborn die in her arms, and of a doctor whose daily glass of wine to handle the frustrations of the ER escalates into a destructive addiction. Ofri also reveals that doctors cope through gallows humor, find hope in impossible situations, and surrender to ecstatic happiness when they triumph over illness.
Ofri (Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients) offers an eloquent and honest take on the inner life of medical professionals, describing not only her own bumpy path from med student to M.D., but also the difficulty of maintaining empathy for patients over the years. "Emotional layers" in medicine are more subtle and pervasive than anyone wants to believe, and they often become the "dominant players in medical decision-making," she argues. Ofri uses the story of illegal immigrant Julia and her battle with congestive heart failure as a jumping-off point for discussing how doctors handle emotionally complicated cases. From the reluctance of Julia's medical team to deliver her "death sentence" to a happy conclusion following the persistence of her hospital team, Ofri celebrates the rare occasions "of joy in our profession" while investigating the "documented decline in empathy" shown to begin in med school. Not every doctor becomes hardened, though many lose their way (the author describes an ER doc who was canned for being drunk on the job). Ofri heaps praise on one M.D. who sagely advises that "it is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has." Ofri's passionate examination of her own fears and doubts alongside broader concerns within the medical field should be eye-opening for the public and required reading for medical students.