By Dr. Helene A. Sairany:
“Doctors are just so mean and arrogant,” I keep hearing. I somehow have to agree with this assertion considering that every physician-patient experience I have encountered has been nothing but a disaster. I understand that not everyone is a cupcake or rainbow. I also understand that doctors work under loads of pressure but I feel doctors fail to grasp a good understanding of their role. The ultimate role of a doctor is to heal and healing demands loads of patience and empathy.
I once over-heard my friend, who is also a medical doctor, utter that medical students should face the various stages of every disease before continuing to become doctors. I knew what he meant. He meant nothing but empathy! To practice empathy, you have to build an understanding of what the patient is going through. I remember as a pharmacy student, I was required to live the life of a diabetic, hypertensive and hyperlipidemic patient, where I had to inject myself 3 times daily with insulin shots, I had to stick my finger to get sugar readings, and I had to take multiple anti-diabetes, anti-hypertensive and anti-hyperlipidemia tablets. Every day I had to record my compliance and to my surprise my percent compliance by end of the month was 30%. After going through this exercise, I was able to build an understanding toward a patients’ non-adherence. Just now I understand what it means to live with multiple chronic conditions, to inject yourself so many times and to take multiple pills. Had I not gone through this exercise, I would not have had built this understanding
Empathy is what doctors are missing in Kurdistan. Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by the patient. A doctor has to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. You might, like myself, wonder if empathy is an innate practice or can it be learned? Of course it can be learned. We have to make this learning available to our students.
One of the by-products of a lack of empathy is failure to utilize patient-specific language when it comes to patient interaction. The practice of patient-specific language is also is a learned process that has to be incorporated in the medical curriculums. I recall that, though I was providing my instructor with the right answer, points were still taken off because it was not in a language that patients could understand. Doctors typically do not have large amounts of time to educate patients, and impersonal, voluminous patient handouts are largely ineffective. Patient compliance is a significant problem and it is strongly correlated with the patients’ understanding of their condition and prescribed treatment.
Our doctors, like many other doctors elsewhere, fail to practice what they preach to their patients. Almost every other doctor smokes here in Kurdistan. Being part of the faculty at the medical campus myself, it only bothers me to see residents and medical students smoke indoors. It bothers me further when I fail to see a law prohibits the act of smoking indoors. I for once took the initiative to approach a group of residents in the college cafeteria who were smoking. I kindly asked that smoking indoors is not good for my health since I have an allergic reaction to it. I was not only treated with disrespect but also handled bitterly when I was only trying to be professional in my approach. Their reaction makes me question residents’ true intention toward their profession. Why do you want to become a medical doctor when you fail to strive for a patient’s comfort? Aren’t you wanting to heal a patient?
Arrogance among doctors is an attribute that is impossible to miss. Confronting doctors with a medical error of theirs is blasphemy! I am the kind of soul that loves voluntary and motivational work. I once decided to help a colleague with his PhD data collection by passing out surveys to medical doctors and acting residents. Filling a survey is completely voluntary. The point of this survey was to grasp the magnitude of our doctors’ understanding of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is a type of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibacterial activity of methicillin and other related antibiotics of the penicillin class. I am yet to understand as to why some senior residents took filling the survey so personal, as if we were testing their knowledge. We all know surveys are completely anonymous. We had some doctors look at the survey intent on correcting its content while others stated that, if the survey was on some cardiology-related topic, the story would have been far different. I thought to myself, how about just completing the survey?
I wish every doctor was as sincere in his/her duty in public hospital hours as they are in their private clinic hours. When we aren’t feeling well, which of course is the reason we are paying these individuals a visit, then facing harshness and cruelty may leave us feeling intimidated, angry, frustrated, or a host of other negative emotions, none of which is helpful for improving our health. Confidence and self-assurance are good traits for doctors to have. We want to know that our doctors are confident about their work and are positive about their abilities to help us. But wise patients understand that there is no room for arrogance or narcissism from an egotistical medical professional. Their lack of respect for our needs, and their difficult personalities will prevent the patient-doctor relationship from developing, which will lead to a negative outcome.
Dr. Helene A. Sairany: Lecturer at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimania. Originally from Kurdistan of Iraq. Grew up in the United States of America.