Are medical students already healers?

I recall the awkward silence when I couldn’t decipher the carotid angiogram thrust at me on Monday morning. As a newly qualified doctor who’d spent the weekend on-call, I would not have been able to describe my route home much less recognise the stenosis in the relevant cerebral artery. Never mind ‘doctor’ spat my boss. Tell us is the patient I’m about to operate on a nice man? He said winking at the gathered retinue.

Actually professor he is. Trouble is he asked me the same question about you and as you can see I’m not a very good liar.

That cheeky reply probably spelled the end of my surgical career. This style of ‘education’ was known as pimping and that day I had just refused to accept it. Among the legions of would-be doctors, there are a few who will go on to be brilliant in the course of their careers. There are those who will one day discover the cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer. There are those who will perform surgery to save life against impossible odds. There are those whose pills or devices will earn fortunes. But brilliant are also those who will reassure and revive. They will be the unsung heroes whose name won’t appear on any honour’s list. They will offer that undefinable quality that helps us to prime our regenerative capacity and immune systems, more often than not in spite of the limitations of technical fix-its. Those who will be the healers of tomorrow already have the qualities within them even before their first anatomy or physiology lecture. They are intelligent and resourceful but also have an innate sense of what to do when faced with a human being in distress. Our job is to hone those qualities and help them to recognise the precious gift that lies dormant until it is needed on the wards, in the clinics and at the bedside. It is truly a privilege to be part of their journey to nurture their talent despite the many disappointments and frustrations that are part of the landscape of any medical career.

We conclude that compassion is everyone’s business and that learners require early and sustained patient and client contact with time for reflection to enable the delivery of compassionate care. Davin and Thistlethwaite

What the world needs is healers, not technicians because doctors care for people and not machines. So in answer to my boss’s question the man he was about to operate on was an incredibly nice person. He would hail us over in the middle of our shift and insist that we took the fruit that his family had brought knowing that we were unlikely to have made it to the canteen before closing time. My boss really was an excellent technician. What helped the patient through this episode wasn’t just this technical skill, it was the compassion and concern that was lavished on him by the dedicated team of nurses and doctors who would ensure that he was pain free, that his questions were answered, his wounds were dressed and that his family were informed of his progress through intensive care and on the wards as was his wish. I’m sure he remembers his surgeon fondly as the brusque, brilliant and efficient man who helped keep him from a stroke but I’m sure he also remembers the junior doctors who would come to him in the middle of the night when his temperature spiked and the staff nurse was worried that his wound was infected. Without this care what was a difficult time for the family would have been a nightmare and the outcome may not have been as good. There were many times during that illness that we came close to losing that patient except that he had the resilience to hold firm to life and we were in his corner.

Picture by Spirit-Fire

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