Only Caring Can Teach Others to Care

Physicians are expected to be continually present to the needs of our patients and staff, and to care about and deal efficiently and competently with those needs. The stakes are high, as patients’ lives are at risk. But how are we prepared for this? When we teach children to be kind and honest, we model and explain these behaviors. When we learn a technique, we watch others perform it and mimic their movements and thought process. To teach caring, we should demonstrate caring towards our students, trainees and colleagues.

Unfortunately, we treat each other in very uncaring ways. When my father suffered a severe MI during my residency, I was coldly informed that I could be with my family only if I arranged coverage for my on-call nights. Another intern, in the middle of her first on-call night, learned that her daughter had broken her leg. Her attending physician allowed her a few short minutes to console her daughter in the Emergency Department, but refused her request to spend the night with her young, injured daughter. What are we teaching our new colleagues with these reactions?

As we face the many changes in healthcare, there are important battles we should be fighting together, as a unified group of professionals. Instead, we splinter our corps by failing to support each other in being the best we can be, making it even more difficult to thrive in our challenging environment. In place of compassion, we deliver judgment. Rather than encouragement, we serve up criticism.

I’m not suggesting we accept mediocrity or a poor work ethic. But I am inviting each of us to respond with caring to each other.

In what ways can you show kindness to your colleagues? A simple “thank you” for a favor rendered or the excellent care of a shared patient goes a long way. Reaching out to a colleague who has become less enthusiastic about medicine or appears sad or stressed, expressing your caring and offering to listen or help, may make the difference between life and death. 300-400 physicians take their own lives each year.

And for those who have taken on administrative roles, please remember where you came from. You, more than anyone, know the stresses your colleagues are feeling. Asking for their side of each story and including them in finding a solution to conflicts that arise will help them feel supported rather than disrespected and devalued.

Happy, balanced doctors provide better patient care, are more productive, and can, in turn, support others who are struggling. If we are to play the important role we should in the evolution of healthcare, we need all of us working together with passion and a unified commitment to our patients, our profession, and our own health.