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Dec. 10, 2009

From Generation to Generation--The Only Constant Thing in Life is Change!

by Linda Brodsky

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Baby and DoctorYes, my daughter the doctor-to be, if it were only our career choices that created confusion and uncertainty! How your words (and your angst) resonated with me and my own daily struggles in caring for patients. Even after a lifetime of practice (nearly 30 years), not a day goes by that I don’t feel humbled by a problem I cannot solve or a patient I cannot heal.

Learning to deal with the confusion created by the rapidly changing science of medicine which needs to be practiced on the ever changing cultural, social and economic playing field has placed enormous demands on today’s physicians. How will this new generation of healers handle this explosion of information and the ever increasing societal expectations for perfection and performance?

“Medicine is a calling; it is not just a career. It is a way of life.” How many times I have heard and repeated the mantra of medicine of my generation? But as I watch you go through medical school and see how you lovingly and thoughtfully embrace your future, without losing your love (or time) for other parts of and people in your life, I have begun to reconsider my position.

Perhaps the attitudes emerging from the upcoming generation of physicians are their protective reaction that is not only necessary but also good. This talk of balance and lifestyle. To have time with our families. To have time to restore ourselves. To have time to have and be friends. To us, who have spent decades in the trenches, this sounds so foreign. We believed that these times were denied to us so we could prepare and become and remain really fine physicians.

But the practice of medicine has become so demanding, that in order that we “first of all, do no harm,” perhaps we have to be mindful of our need to more regularly replenish our minds, our bodies and our souls. This may be essential if we are to be more than the mechanics for the human biological machine.

Medicine is unique in the sciences because it is not just a science. The intersections of culture, social, political, economic, and biologic is no more apparent than in the one-on-one critical encounter between someone in need of caring and curing and the someone who not only has the competence, but also the compassion to make that happen.

One can learn competence in a lab, on a cadaver, from a lecture or the hundreds of supervised hours of seeing virtual or real patients in the emergency room, in the hospitals, and in the clinics. But compassion is learned from nurturing the feelings that sometimes are buried deep, deep inside, which allows you to respect and receive someone else’s needs.

So if we are tired or worn, as so often we physicians can become, maybe we will be less to our patients than they really need. Less able to both care and cure.

Yes, Dana, I am sure you will continue to experience periods of confusion and uncertainty all the days of your medical life. Finding people to lean on and places to retreat to may give you, and the people for whom you care, fresh and essential energy to be that physician we all want for our own.

About Linda Brodsky

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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