Prairie Doc Perspective: The two sides of humanity in medicine
Merriam-Webster defines humanity as “compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition.” It is also defined as “the quality or condition of being human.” The first definition is what people want in a health care provider. We all want to be taken care of by a caregiver who is compassionate, kind, sympathetic, and generous with their time and knowledge. Health care providers spend countless hours taking care of patients. In order to do this, at times we ignore our own needs for rest, sleep, and food. We recite mantras of “first do no harm” and “the patient comes first.” Many of us strive for this vision of the “perfect” provider or to be a “health care hero” as we were called during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, all health care providers are also the second definition. We are all human. That means we make mistakes. We get tired and hungry. We get angry or can be afraid. Despite being called heroes, we often do not feel heroic or even act heroic. We may say the wrong things in the wrong way. We could hurt patients with our words or actions. This is not done intentionally or with malice; it is a side-effect of the second definition, being human. Most health care providers desperately want to only be the first definition, yet it is easy to find examples of times that we have failed.
These two definitions do not need to be at odds with one another. The first one has been praised and encouraged to be shared by health care providers. The second definition has, until recent years, been suppressed. Each generation of health care providers strives to be better than the one before. Now there is specific training in medical school teaching how to admit mistakes that one has made and sincerely apologize. Medical students are not graded on just their knowledge of disease and ability to diagnose, they are also graded on their ability to communicate and interact with patients. The art of “bedside manner” is something that can be taught. However, it takes a career to truly refine that skill by making mistakes, identifying them, and learning to be better the next time.
Allowing health care providers to show both of our sides of humanity – the good and the bad – will allow for more trust and greater connection with the very people we are trying to heal. That connection will, in turn, heal the health care provider. This mutual healing will help us tap into the compassion, sympathy, and generosity that make us human and drew us to this profession in the first place. Together we can heal and be better, by seeing ALL of the humanity that we all share.
Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook.