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Patients die. There is no hiding from this. By choosing to become a physician, a person chooses not only to save lives, but also to live amongst the dying every day. Physicians will always have patients who they will never be able to cure no matter how hard they try. Considering this, we can only hope that a physician will not let emotions, such as grief, affect his or her everyday practice.

Indeed, the outward expression of such sentiments can often be perceived as signs of weakness or incompetence. But as pointed out in the New York Times article “When Doctors Grieve“, doctors feel these emotions just as strongly as the rest of us. Young doctors especially struggle to find ways to show empathy to their patients while protecting themselves from experiencing the sentiments at the same time. As a result, these young physicians can often find themselves struggling to find a balance between their emotions and professional detachment.

As part of the struggle, they can often turn towards denial as a professional method of coping. They can choose to ignore the imminent death of the patient. Instead, they might divert their attention towards finding other ways to prolong the patient’s life, even if it comes with the price of prolonging the patient’s suffering.

Young physicians often struggle with balancing emotions and professional detachment.

Image Source: Idea Images

This situation tends to occur because our medical training system does not properly equip new doctors with the know-how to deal with the impeding demise of a patient. According to Dr. John Mandrola, “Physicians need to recognize that there are occasions when the patient’s fate is not, in the end, the doctor’s work,” and every patient also “deserves care on his own terms, for each patient’s life, and death, is his own.” While the denial can often impart an increased level of professionalism to their work and shield them from their emotions, it can also have a negative impact on the quality of their practice as their coping mechanism robs them of the ability to properly care for their patients in a humanistic manner. Therefore, in the process of doctoring, physicians can forget that they are not only treating a disease, but rather, the whole patient.

In order to mend this situation and ensure that the core aspects of the profession remain intact, Dr. Atul Gawande stresses that a physician must not forget that “kindness and humanity” are the basic responsibilities of a modern physician.

Thus, physicians must gain the strength to bring up and courageously face the issues of death and mortality. Their avoidance of death can have serious negative outcomes for the patient, including but not limited to a prolonged period of suffering near the end of the patient’s life.

At the same time, they must also learn that death is normal and that at certain instances, there is nothing that doctors can possibly do for patients or their families, except offer their sympathy to ease the suffering in their moment of pain.

Feature Image Source: Ervik Graveyard Midnight by Fairy Heart

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