The lady from Kolkata asked me a few dozen questions in the course of a 20 minute phone call.

She was anxious. Understandably.

Her 3 month old baby had just been diagnosed with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – a heart birth defect which was picked up by accident on a visit to the well-baby clinic.

The child didn’t need any treatment right now.

Maybe after 4 or 5 years, things would be different. But not now.

Still, she was worried.

I did my best to reassure her.

A month later, her brother-in-law (who is my friend, and referred her to me in the first place) called to let me know… that she had fixed a date for the baby’s operation next month, with a different surgeon.

This isn’t unusual.

It’s easy to get frustrated with people who do this.

Ignore your prescription. Reject your expert advice. Disobey your instructions.

And other kinds of nonsensical things.

Yet tolerance is an important virtue for young doctors (and old!)

Why do we tend to be intolerant, though?

It seems like we’ve somehow imbibed a kind of wishful desire – to see perfection everywhere.

In our politicians. In our parents and children. In our co-workers and colleagues.

And in our patients.

But we live in an imperfect world.

We are all flawed, just in different ways. And accepting this reality makes us more understanding of others’ shortfalls.

Your patients will be different from you.

In many ways.

In their personal behaviors. Or philosophical attitudes. Or beliefs.

In lifestyle choices. Moral standards. Civic sense and responsibility.

In their political preferences. Religious persuasions. Cultural mores.

And many, many more ways.

That shouldn’t mean anything to you, in a professional sense.

You don’t have to like, approve, or endorse whatever your patients do (or did not do) in order to treat them.

You should learn to look past them to the patient, the human being in pain, who is behind it all.

Treat that person, ignore the rest.

Or make allowance for it.

This is what I mean by practicing tolerance.

Your personal principles and values are your own. By all means, cherish and respect them – for yourself.

But these things should have no impact on your PROFESSIONAL self.

That goes beyond to the core of what you do as a doctor… heal patients, save lives, promote health.

As I already mentioned in the discussion on professionalism, a pro is someone who ‘gets things done – no matter what’.

Being tolerant of your patient’s very human foibles and failings, as well as your own as an imperfect, imprecise doctor, is vital…

For your own peace of mind.

And for performing your role as a doctor, with uniform competence that approaches excellence.

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 -

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: