Respect Your Patient’s Dignity

I still vividly remember an incident from my days as an intern. Even the young lady’s face.

She was an M.Sc graduate. At the Family Planning OPD. With an “unwed pregnancy”.

In those days, this was taboo.

An aversion to her condition in the broader general society was maybe understandable, given the norms of that time.

But there’s no excuse whatsoever for how doctors dealt with it.

In an open out-patient’s department, right in front of all other patients, the senior doctor loudly asked her: “Who did you sleep with?”

The young lady remained stoically silent.

Enraged, the doctor screamed even louder: “What? You’re not ashamed to sleep with him, but now you’re ashamed to talk about it?”

The girl mumbled her answer.

And this shameless doctor amplified it.

“What? You slept with your autorickshaw driver? Don’t you have any sense? You’re an educated graduate – and you did this?”

The girl sat in silence, her head bowed, staring at the floor.

I glanced around at my classmates. We were around her age.

Everyone was cringing.

We were ashamed – but not about our patient.

We were ashamed of our professional colleague – who was behaving so crudely.

Should ANY patient experience this kind of torture?

After all, she has come to us for help!

That question would define my attitude towards patients ever since.

Dignity and respect for those we treat should remain the top priority for any doctor… always.

They are human beings first; your patients only afterwards.

And they are NEVER your ‘inferiors’ or ‘dependents’!

There is absolutely no excuse to abuse your position of relative authority over them.

Especially at a time when they are so extremely vulnerable.

To behave in a way or manner that degrades their self respect or strips away their dignity is horribly wrong.

It is critical that every young doctor be intensely aware of this enormous responsibility we are entrusted with by our patients.

They believe that we will do our best – for them.

They come to us hoping that we will solve their problems, ease their pain.

It is a criminal mistake to violate such trust and belief. To act in a way that will degrade or disrespect their sentiments and feelings.

There is no excuse for such behavior on your part.

You may have different beliefs and culture from those of your patients. Your own sense of morals, values and ethics may vary from their’s.

That doesn’t matter.

In a professional context, all of that should fade into the background.

Here, you are healer – they are patients.

You have power and authority – by virtue of your position in the relationship.

Always be aware of this imbalance.

Respect it, don’t abuse it.

Give every patient the dignity they so richly deserve – as humans.


Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author - http://www.DrSivasubramanian.com

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