I’ll often spend 10 or 15 minutes explaining to parents the complex heart operation my little patient will require.
I go deep into the technical challenges of it. Draw pictures to show what will happen. And talk about the very real, very serious danger to the child’s life.
Many times, after listening carefully, one of them will look straight at me and ask:
“But my child will be alright, won’t s/he doctor?”
What’s going on here?
It’s not that mom or dad is dull, dumb, or ignorant.
They’ve listened carefully to what I just said. Processed the information. Understand what lies ahead.
And still, they ask the question.
So what do they really want from my answer?
In a word: Hope.
Reassurance. Comfort. And encouragement.
They want me to display confidence in the outcome of a procedure that might save their child’s life – or snatch it away from them forever.
I, too, am acutely aware of these stark alternatives.
And it terrifies me.
Every single time.
It never gets easier, not even after doing it for 25 years!
And yet, despite this fear and uncertainty, I must project confidence.
Because that’s what my patients and their families need.
It’s also what YOUR patients and their families need.
People go to the movies to suspend reality, to spend a few hours enjoying the fantastic world of make-believe.
Patients come to the doctor with somewhat similar motives.
To be reassured. Given hope, and told that things will be well.
That doesn’t mean lying to them. Or offering a false sense of security and comfort.
No, that would not only be unethical… it is wrong, cruel even.
Confidence doesn’t mean ignoring facts or reality.
It’s about believing you can bend it a certain way.
Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you won’t.
But you can still believe.
And project that belief – for your patient’s benefit.
Look, you may have a patient with terminal cancer. It has spread everywhere. Survival chances are really poor.
You could be brutally frank and convey this to a patient, bluntly and plainly.
Or you could explain that even though things don’t look bright, we’ll try our best to fight this disease… or offer relief from suffering, and keep them free of pain.
In both instances, the patient will be fully aware of what’s coming.
But which kind of doctor would she rather have?
Which kind of doctor would YOU rather be?
Think about it.
And there’s also a lot more power in projecting confidence.
We’re all aware of the ‘placebo effect’, where how strongly a patient believes in the treatment affects outcomes.
You simply cannot overestimate the positive effect a confident physician can have on a patient’s psyche.
Dramatic, even miraculous cures are possible – when there’s confidence on one side, and a trusting belief on the other.
The mind is indeed a powerful medical weapon or tool… and a wise physician wields it intelligently.
One last advantage in projecting confidence to your patients is that you start believing in yourself, too.
When you practice being confident, it tends to rub off on you… making you more engaged, energetic and enthusiastic.
You’re known as a “can do” doctor, instead of a “Negative Nelly” who only sees the worst in any situation.
My teacher and mentor, Prof.A.M.Selvaraj, had this habit of placing his hand over the head of an anxious patient, looking right into his or her eyes, and smiling.
It was remarkable to see the transformation, as an agitated, nervous, worried face instantly broke into a wide grin or a relieved smile.
I believe healing began right from that moment.
And continued through the other steps.
Not only because of the correct diagnosis and prescription, but also because of a doctor’s confidence and a patient’s belief in it.
And project confidence towards your patients.
Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?
Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.