The most valuable lesson I learned in my first semester of medical school.
Being a physician is something many people around the world aspire to be. The reasons behind this decision vary, but one of them is related to the fact that medicine is one of the most esteemed careers worldwide. This prestige, however, is heavily based on the dehumanization of doctors. Let me elaborate.
Not many professions have such a direct impact on people’s lives as medicine does. For example, the early diagnosis of cancer can provide a longer life span, not to mention a better quality of life; the proper execution of surgical techniques can prevent the patient from bleeding on the table or developing post-operative complications; and so on.
All these things people expect from a doctor are characteristics that strip us away from our humanities and enhance people’s perception that we have to be above life and death. In doctor-patient relationships, this is known as the God Syndrome, a situation in which patients, being in a vulnerable state, transfer their worries and doubts to the figure of this “undefeated” and “assertive” persona they believe doctors to be. However, this projection doesn’t happen strictly to patients, being an idea shared by many individuals that are not, in any way, part of the health care system.
The mistaken conceptions of what health care professionals are or should be, contradict the reality that we are flawed. We are not heroes without capes; we are not “dragon slaying” warriors; we are not “knights in shining armors” or any other cheesy metaphor you see in comic or fairytale books.
We, too, make mistakes.
So now you must be asking, how can doctors make mistakes when lives are at risk? How can doctors unintentionally hurt someone when they swore to “do no harm”?
It’s simple. The answer is: because we are only humans, and we fail, just like everyone else. And this is a hard thing to grasp for med students, doctors, patients, and their loved ones for a distinct number of reasons.
First, I guess because most medical schools don’t teach us how to accept death as an unavoidable part of life. We spend so much time learning how to help people, analyze x-rays, fix bones, and…