Leading into my third year clinical clerkships, I predict that my posts will become increasingly shorter in length (which is probably a good thing) as I will have less free time to myself and more time to commit to my patients and team members. Nonetheless, reflecting on my experiences through writing is a personal commitment and a powerful learning tool for me as I seek to continue developing the self-awareness and self-assessment skills required of a good physician. Here is a short reflection on developing thoughts.
I believe that in the liminal spaces of sickness and healing, there are few words said that lack a deeper meaning. We, as physicians, must be careful and conscientious of the words we choose to convey our instructions, encouragement, and bad news. Our partners in this relationship, our patients, do the same, though perhaps with less premeditation. For the first time, an inpatient, encouraging me and a team member during our early stages of medical training, spoke these words to me: “God gave you the power to heal.” In those words, I find not only encouragement but also the desire to assign meaning and order to his tortuous path. With the will of God breathing a purpose into each action and interaction, it is possible to move forwards through each hardship with a peaceful mind and connect to those who would help or test you along the path.
I am not a religious person, and I am uncertain as to whether or not I ever will be. However, I do believe in a greater order connecting each person and living being and a meaning behind every occurrence. For me, believing that there is a greater order and reason serves to assure me that not all events and outcomes are in my control. On the other hand, believing that the power of healing is a gift from God reminds me that I have a responsibility to use my abilities (however nascent at this time) to serve the well-being of all people, all who are connected by this greater order and reason. The former prevents the anguish and the tendency to cast and misplace blame that arises from the failure of a patient to recover as expected. The latter marks the commitment needed to always do everything in my power (within reason) to help and understand he or she who suffers. I believe that those who enter medicine with a prior connection to God through religion have an advantage in this area: they are more likely to quickly develop the range of behavior and systems of rationalization that are appropriate and helpful in the care of patients. That is, they may be more humble than others in their perceptions of their effect on patient outcomes and more likely to recover from the trauma of poor patient outcomes, while also being more committed to using the gift of healing given to them. Religions may not always promote the values we support as practitioners of medicine (equality, compassion, tolerance), but most do. Accordingly, I hope that physicians-in-training with religious beliefs and commitments always find a place to speak with other students, and patients, about their faiths and their intersections with medicine and patient care. Not all in medicine fits within the purview of science: much revolves around how we connect to another person, and how we see that connection.