MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What is the role of a doctor in our society

Date: Wed Nov 14 10:30:08 2001
Posted By: John Carlson, Medical student, MD/PhD (parasitology) , Tulane University, School of Medicine
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 1004617326.Me

Dear Tejman,

I had to think a long time about these questions. It was difficult because the qualities and activities that make a person an ideal doctor are generally the same qualities and activities that make a person ideal for any job. Honesty is important when you are a doctor, but it is equally important for politicians, mechanics, scientists, salesmen, and everyone else to be honest. It is also important for everyone to care about the people that they work with. It's important to work hard, and have a large amount of patience no matter what your job is. These are important qualities for physicians, but they are also important for everyone else.

Your first question: What are the duties of an ideal doctor towards his patients & towards his profession. Towards your patients you must work towards the betterment of their health. You must work with your patients as partners in that goal. It is your job to explain, to the best of your understanding, what health threats they face, and provide them the options (giving both the positive and negative consequences) for each option that they have. You must respect their decisions, whether or not you agree with them, and you must maintain confidentiality about most things that the patient tells you. The duties towards your profession include working together with other physicians to create a healthier community, country, and world for everyone to live in.

Your second question: What is the role of a doctor in our society. This answer is fairly straightforward. Doctors work to increase the health of their patients. This includes listening to emotional stresses and helping to alleviate them if possible. Society tends to hold physicians in high regard. Because of this, doctors have influence (perhaps unfounded) in many areas. Doctor should be very careful not misuse the trust placed in them.

Your third question: How can doctors contribute to improving healthy living conditions & how can a doctor contribute to effection political decisions that effect medi-care and medical conditions in hospitals or other ethical decisions take by our governments. Again, doctors have a lot of influence in society. It is not usually part of a doctor's job to be a politician, and so to be politically active, doctors must use their free time if they want to work for improvement. Most doctors work very long days, and therefore do not have time to use this influence to bring about improvements. However, those that do tend to have a big impact. Some doctors write letters to the government, or even meet directly with politicians. Others work hard in their own communities, volunteering at free clinics for poorer patients. There is a lot that a doctor can to, but it can take a great deal of energy to accomplish these things. It is important to note here, that anyone can have a large impact of politics and in their own communities. It is my view that everyone should work towards improving their communities.

Your Fourth question: Why does any ideal doctor wanted to become a doctor. I want to know what is the motivation that motivates most people to study medicine (Not good income or stable life).

An ideal doctor wants to become a doctor because they enjoy working with people and they find medicine very interesting. There are many jobs in which you would get to work with people and being a doctor is one of them. I will not say that an ideal doctor wants to help people, because I think that most people want to help others, and accomplish it in a variety of different ways. For example, a scientist may discover a new medicine that cures many more people than one doctor could help during his life time. A politician may negotiate a peace treaty that saves millions of lives. Certainly no typical doctor could see a million patients in his life time. There are many ways to help people, but they do not always allow the helper to work directly with people.

Being a doctor is like being a mechanic except that a mechanic works to fix a machine and a doctor works to fix a person. Because people are far more complicated and valuable than most machines, there is a higher standard demanded of doctors than of mechanics. The training is a lot longer, for example. In the end, however, society needs mechanics as badly as it needs physicians, teachers, scientists, and everyone else.

It is important to be humble about being a doctor. Being a doctor does not make a person smarter, wiser, kinder, or in any other way better than others. Unfortunately many people do not realize this. Sometimes patients will forgive a doctor for acting badly simply because they are a doctor. Sometimes doctors become arrogant because people give them so much respect without needing to earn that respect. Doctors are normal people who have extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and they usually work very hard with good intentions. I think that most people work very hard with good intentions whether they are a doctor or not.

Now I will pick out one attribute that deserves emphasis in physicians. While compassion is a virtue all people should practice, when doctors do not practice compassion, they can become very cruel. I have seen very good doctors, who are also good people, forget to be compassionate with their patients and end up being cruel.

While it is easy to be compassionate to most children, and also to people who are kind and good, it is more difficult to be compassionate to people that you have difficulty liking. For example, my first patient was a prisoner that had committed many crimes. While we both spoke English, the way we spoke it was quite different and I had trouble communicating with him over the two weeks that he stayed in the hospital. He was often very angry. Yet it was important for me to continue giving him the best care that I could while he healed from the surgery that had been performed on him. When the patient was ready to leave the hospital we needed to write him prescriptions to control the pain he had. The doctor I was working under was angry at the patient and wanted to give him a weak medicine that would not control his pain as well as a stronger medicine. After I argued with this doctor, he changed his mind, and remembered to be compassionate.

I have also seen a great difficulty that many doctors have with being compassionate with psychiatric patients. If a person is under tremendous emotional stress, they can feel pains in their bodies. The pain is very real to these patients, but no pain relievers can make the pain go away. Because these patients can feel the pain, they are offended by the idea that the pain is generated in their brains rather than in the peripheral nerves of the body. Because of this misunderstanding, it can be very difficult to convince some patients that visiting a psychiatrist would help eliminate their pain. Doctors sometimes become tired of these patients, and lose compassion for them.

In your career you will encounter all kinds of people. Some of them will make you angry, but it will be very important not to judge them, and to remain compassionate. It will be your job to help them as well as you can, no matter how badly you dislike them. I wish you luck in your studies, and I hope that find enjoyment in your work as a doctor.


John Carlson

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