I used to say, “Love your patients”.
But that’s open to misinterpretation. And it’s sometimes difficult, because some patients are downright nasty.
So instead, better advice is to be compassionate towards all patients.
Let’s turn to our favorite dictionary again for the meaning – “pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
Surely we can feel that… even for the worst among our patients?
In the course of your medical career, you will treat all kinds of people. I’ve had convicted rapists, undertrial murderers, and long-time gangsters as patients.
To a doctor, everyone is the same.
My favorite professor, whose patient list included a literal ‘Who’s Who’ of famous celebrities, once made noted violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan wait for almost an hour in his clinic, while he examined other patients who had arrived earlier.
Later, over tea, he explained. “In a doctor’s clinic, everyone is a patient first. And anything else only after that.”
In other words, a patient is a patient – regardless of who she might be as a person.
And so what your patient does, how famous or otherwise he is, how wealthy or influential or wicked… all of that doesn’t matter.
You should be able to feel compassion towards each one.
That is definitely NOT easy.
When you hear of the cruel and terrible things a patient has done, your first instinct may be to serve as an instrument of justice or retribution – and make the criminal suffer for those crimes.
As a medical doctor, that is not your role.
Your Hippocratic oath is to preserve and cherish life – not based on what kind of life it is, or whether you believe it is worthy of saving.
That is why compassion is so vital to a doctor.
When you can feel pity or concern for another, irrespective of their status in life or their activities during it, you can transcend them and focus on what you’re meant to do –
Treat disease, relieve pain, heal patients.
Leave justice to the judges.
Leave punishment to the policemen.
And play your role as a doctor, to your best ability.
Compassion is a powerful emotion.
Not a strong one like passion or rage… but a quieter one, like determination or faith.
It requires that you envision the whole of humanity as being somehow connected to you. Deserving your affection. Worthy of your concern and attention.
Adopt that mindset, and it will have a transformational impact on how you serve and act as a doctor.
Treating patients becomes more than simply a mechanical act of prescribing pills or performing procedures.
It becomes an act of love!
And then, you won’t feel tired or frustrated or exhausted by having to do it for long hours. At extreme personal discomfort. Or under suboptimal conditions.
Because what you do now becomes an expression of compassion for fellow human beings in pain and suffering.
Your every action as a doctor takes on a magical character. Becomes an act of worship or divine service. Is a fulfilment of your life’s purpose.
You stop counting the cost.
You don’t focus on the difficulties.
And you become obsessed with the joy and satisfaction that comes from doing whatever you can… to heal those who deserve your care.
Open your heart. Feel compassion for your patients.
Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?
Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.