Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sympathy,empathy and compassion

All of us want a doctor  who will care about us – someone who is sympathetic ; who understands our pain;  who will provide us a shoulder to cry on ; and a hand to help us heal . Even better than a doctor who provides only  sympathy is one who is empathetic – one who can identify with the pain and suffering we’re going through , rather than just providing pity. Such a doctor serves as a friend, philosopher and guide in our time of need, and helps us to cope with our illness in our darkest moments because of the emotional synchrony between his heart and ours. Even better than the empathetic doctor is the doctor who is compassionate – and the only doctor who learns to fulfill his highest calling as a healer is when he learns compassion.

Compassion transcends both sympathy and empathy because it converts feelings into action. Compassion is something we expect from our religious and spiritual leaders , but it's something which we often find is sorely lacking with our doctors. The tragedy is that every doctor should aspire to be a healer - and the best way to do so is to inculcate an attitude of compassion . Providing compassionate care is not only the best way for helping the patient to get better, it’s also very helpful for the doctor to become a better human being as well.
Unfortunately, with the way medical education is organized today , there seems to be little chance of young doctors learning even sympathy, let alone compassion. The intense competition to get into medical college means that we are selecting nerds who are good at cramming and have a high IQ – but we do not check their EQ. During their medical college, students are subject to intense competitive academic pressure. They are forced to memorize and regurgitate the thousands of facts their medical syllabus prescribes, because they need to score high marks in their examinations in order to qualify as a doctor. Unfortunately, there are no marks awarded for being compassionate and caring !

Because of the pressure of time, medical residents are forced to look after a large number of poor patients during their training in public medical colleges. Instead of inculcating a caring attitude in our young doctors , we are actually ending up squeezing this out of them , so that by the time most medical students have graduated from medical college and become doctors , they've actually ended up becoming hardened  and apathetic – it seems as if all the humanity has been drained out of them. This is such a tragedy ! Some are fortunate and manage to escape this dehumanizing influence by finding a senior doctor who serves as a mentor and role models , from whom they can imbibe humanitarian qualities , so they can lead a more fulfilling and happy life for themselves.

Sadly , not only do most doctors seem to be completely uncaring and apathetic , they actually end up becoming antipathetic ! A lot of them are so fed up with the constant demands which are being made on their precious time and limited energy , by an uncaring government which does not pay any attention to the personal aspirations of doctors; insurance companies, which are more interested in paperwork, rather than patient care ; and patients who often fail to say a simple thank you when they get better , that the medical profession is under siege. This kind of attitude has become so pervasive that most doctors no longer enjoy being doctors – they no longer look forward to taking care of their patients. Things have come to such a sad pass that doctors sometimes actually start treating patients as their enemies , because they feel that their patients place unreasonable demands on their time and money. Many doctors no longer feel adequately compensated , either by money or by recognition for their services , as a result of which they become bitter . This shows , not only in their personal life , but in their professional life as well , when they are taking care of their patients. This just ends up creating a negative cycle , which causes harm both to doctors and patients as well.


  1. Very rightly said. Anyone who walks into the consultation room of a doctor wants a sound advice on their problems and an advice which is not just about facts and figures but also empathetic towards the patient. I have undergone fertility treatment with 2 specialists; first who was very very blunt in her approach and 2nd who gave the facts but in a lighter. Even though the outcome of both IVF cycles was a negative but if I want to repeat IVF I will be more comfortable with the 2nd specialist.

  2. Infertile Gynaecologist11:07 AM

    Very true Sir!


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