by James D. Hundley, MD
If you’ve never been a patient with a serious problem yourself, you may not have considered this. Having a medical problem not only drags down your body, it drags down your mind, too. I’m sure someone taught you about it in medical school, but when we get wrapped up in the technical side of our profession, and it’s absolutely necessary that we do so, this is a lesson that some seem to forget.
Do you know people who are “buzz killers”? Within a few seconds of being in their presence, you feel your emotional energy being drained and you can’t get away from those people quickly enough. In contrast, those who are bright and energetic make you feel good and ready to tackle anything.
This is true in the doctor-patient relationship, and it’s serious. I’ve been around doctors who act so down in the dumps that it seems that they are the ones who need help more than their patients. Maybe they are tired from working so hard or maybe they are internalizing their worry about the patient, but they sure aren’t helping their patients tackle their problems. Whatever the case may be, they are sucking needed emotional energy from their patients rather than filling their patients’ tanks with the fuel they need to deal with their problem.
I’m not suggesting that you not show concern. To the contrary, I’m suggesting that you not only show concern for and interest in your patients, I’m suggesting that you be truly concerned and show it by transferring some of your own positive energy to your patients.
You can’t be silly or trivial. That’s not what I’m suggesting. It might take a little practice to find your own best way of approaching this and it’s hard to describe, but it’s about being positive and upbeat to the extent possible in any given situation.
Players play better for certain coaches. You frequently hear about it. I’ve seen it with teams that I’ve worked with. The same players who were losing miraculously start winning. Surely the reasons for the sudden success are many. Maybe it’s conditioning or technique. They’re important. Without positive energy, however, I don’t think it happens.
Likewise, when you rod someone’s femur or replace someone’s hip, the technical aspects are critical, but that’s not enough. You have to take care of the other physical needs as well, and I’m sure you do, but that’s still not enough. You must also help that patient find the energy to get up and go again. Equally as important, no matter how tired you are or what else is going on with other patients or in your life, you must dig down and find positive energy to share with your patient.
Many will dismiss this as insignificant and/or unrealistic. I have no scientific studies to support it. On the other hand, I have had many years of interaction with patients and truly believe that patients do better when they want to please their doctors. It’s like a player wanting to please his coach. You can’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s about you personally, of course, but if it’s useful to the patient, it’s certainly not harmful.
Worried that all of your energy will be drained by your patients? Don’t be. In fact, the gratification of seeing your patients happily improving or resolutely dealing with serious problems is in itself a source of energy for you. It’s like heat reflecting off an object and back to you. Try it. You either already know that it’s true or you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Dr. Hundley is a retired orthopaedic surgeon living in Wilmington. He is the founder and president of OrthopaedicLIST.com a resource website for orthopaedic and other surgeons and related professionals.