A common complaint about modern medicine is the depersonalization of the patient and the loss of compassion." So let's take a look at compassion.
Compassion is derived from the Latin "cum" (together with) and "patior" (suffer). From the perspective of clinicians, compassion is defined by two concurrent emotions: (1) a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by medical misfortune accompanied by (2) a strong desire to relieve that suffering.
So why are clinicians trained to keep all their sympathies in check? The explanation most often offered is that clinicians' emotions can get in the way of making difficult decisions or performing procedures that are gruesome or cause patient pain.
My awareness that clinicians' emotions can interfere with their ability to provide care that optimizes the benefits of modern medicine is the main reason I have not socialized with my colleagues who are also my physicians. More than I want their friendship, I want them to be able to make dificult choices in my care.
But complete detachment is not the answer. DISpassionate care is incompatible with COMpassionate care. What's a clinician to do?
I suspect that when Dr. Frances Peabody said, "The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient," he intended the implied ending "while maintaining a proper balance of objectivity and sympathy."
In my next post I'll explain how clinicians' emotions can be used to benefit their patients.