an open letter to "The Doctor" (if he appears to be a sort of doctor who might listen)

by Jill Herrron Chapin

  • Be honest about your limits, and don't blame the patient for their illness.
  • Never, ever again talk about "your (insert name of disease here)", and caution your patients not to, either. Patients are afflicted with disease, they do not own them (unless they like to maintain ownership), and they are not the disease.
  • Be open to and explore the benefits of methods of treatment outside your realm. Encourage your patients to do anything and everything that works for them, even if you think it's stupid. Because really, if you can't help them, it's ridiculous to think they should continue seeing you over and over and never see anyone or try anything else.
  • Understand that your patients have run in to a lot of arrogant, lying assholes. So if they don't trust you, blame the jerks you went to college with.
  • Your training is limited. Which is fine. No one person can know everything. But you don't understand nutrition, or alternative treatments in which you have not been trained. This doesn't mean that these aren't effective therapies. It means you don't know everything about them.
  • For the love of all that is holy, just because a disease affects a person for a long time doesn't mean that it isn't curable. It might mean you and the patient don't know the source of the problem. It might mean that there is not enough time left on the patient's clock for the body to heal itself. It might mean that you and the patient don't know how to overcome the problem. But there isn't a lot that is more dejecting and less healing than a lack of hope.
  • Get more comfortable with your limitations. Everyone has them. Doing so will make you a better doctor. Even if your lack of knowledge or direct action have killed a patient.
  • Admit when you have made a mistake. Trust me, this reduces the chances you will get sued, in spite of whatever your liability insurance agent tells you.
  • Don't put up with jerks. Perhaps you could refer them to your jerkier colleagues, they might understand each other.
  • You have a heavy duty habit of personifying the patient's disease and equating the disease with the patient. It's expedient, and it's part of your modern medical culture, but it's bad for the patient, and it gets in the way of your ability to understand the disease and the patient.
  • Stop seeing yourself as the agent of healing. You may possess knowledge, but all you can really do is encourage the patient to do things in a way that allow his or her body to heal itself. God is the agent of healing.
  • If your patients avoid doctors, it is probably a result of spending thousands and thousands of dollars to never feel better while simultaneously being blamed for the illness. When a patient who has been sick for a long time comes to see you, they are making an expression of hope, and often this hope has come at a price. Both a financial and an emotional one. They may feel that there is no cure, and that they are paying you to tell them that their feeling is correct. But they hope that YOU are the one with the tidbit of knowledge that will tip the scales in their favor.
  • Modern medicine has spent so much time, energy and money training patients to accept whatever they have to say regardless of the results or what logic tells them, that it isn't surprising that they see you as someone who should fix them without their engagement. This is going to require cooperation to undo.

  • Tell your patients early and often that you are their partner in understanding their problem, but that they will have to participate, and their bodies will need time to heal. Then act accordingly.

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