Monday, October 27, 2008

Literature and Medicine Equals Better Doctors

Medical schools are starting to use literature as a way of getting students and resident physicians more empathetic and compassionate. It makes good sense.

When I was in medical school, I was in a small group that met weekly for months on the topic of death and dying. A century ago, death and dying was common in America. It was before the discovery of antibiotics. People died more often from accidents, infectious disease, illnesses and even childbirth. Many others were debilitated from viruses like polio or scarred from smallpox before the discovery and use of vaccines. Everyone knew someone who died at a young age. Death was commonplace and everyone was aware. Doctors frankly could do little more than comfort and hold someone's hand as we had few tools to help.

Today, given all of the modern advances in medicine, we've seem to have forgotten that death still exists. As a society few of us have known someone who died in childbirth or from infection like many did years ago. Naturally, the lack of familiarity results in supreme discomfort and is the likely reason many of us, both doctors and non-doctors are uncomfortable.

This story on the humanities and its role in medical training frankly provides the connection of the past to the present. While we as individuals many not see death early on in life as generations before us, we can imagine and empathize their experiences through literature. Great idea. The next generation of doctors should not only be technically savvy but also equally as compassionate.

Now if they would only all go into primary care to address the national shortage!

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