This is a presentation I gave to final year medical students at Guys and St Thomas’ hospital medical school on 27.02.2013
This blog is intended to start a debate, about what it means not merely to be a good doctor, but what it means to be a good doctor and a good person. Please feel free to comment, it’s intended to raise questions rather than provide answers. In part it is my response to the terrible treatment of patients at Mid Staffs.
The link to the prezi is here.
… but it is a basically a series of pictures, so the notes and references below will help you make sense of it. I would suggest opening the prezi in another window and taking your time … going too fast will be disorienting!
There are five themes:
1. Power and culture
2. Insight and self-awareness
3. Scepticism and scientific integrity
5. Kindness – it’s value and meaning in relation to health care.
Stairway. “Here you are at the beginning of your career, ever upwards and onwards ….”
Discussion: What do you think it means to be a good doctor and a good person? What kind of doctor do you aspire to be? Who has inspired you?
Can you be a good doctor and a bad person? Do personal morals matter?
Culture and Power
(Hospital) culture eats (moral) strategy for breakfast
The Circus. You are entering hospital culture, an extraordinary environment where you will work, eat, sleep, experience births and deaths, be moved to tears, perhaps fall ill or fall in or out of love. You will take on the robes and habits of the culture you inhabit. You will soon be acting your part – like a monkey in a circus.
The Gorilla. You will learn from day one that the culture is profoundly hierarchical and relationships of unequal power are everywhere. Deborah Lupton: Medicine as Culture
Discussion: French and Raven. What power will senior doctors, managers and other hospital workers have over you? What have you experienced as a medical student? What new powers will you have as a junior doctor? Over whom? See also, Doctors as Victims by John Launer and When Managers Rule and Medical Power
Doctor bashing and confronting physicians in the media. Good piece arguing for more sophisticated methods than exposing bullies in the media by Kevin Pho, follow up to this piece, “The hierarchical culture that perpetuates bullying goes back as far as medical school, when as students, future doctors are trained in a pecking order not unlike the military. It’s no wonder that some carry that attitude into the workplace”
Insight and Self Awareness
The Cellar. What if instead of leading up the staircase leads downwards? (metaphor for our ‘dark side’) Nicolas Spice: Up From the Cellar. London Review of Books. We all have a dark side, and sometimes discovering our new power reveals it. It is essential that we understand our capacity to do bad things, our dark potential. Doctors who lack this capacity, lack insight and a lack of insight is associated with poor professional performance.
Breaking Bad. If any of you are familiar with Breaking Bad … here is a Walter, a massively overqualified high-school chemist who found out he had lung cancer. Without sufficient health insurance to cover his treatment costs, and faced with leaving his family bankrupt, he turned to cooking meth(amphetamines) to pay for his medical bills,
Bruce Alexander, professor of addiction studies (12.50-13.30):
“our predominant addiction in the world today is not to drugs, but to …. money [and power]“
Leading to cooking more meth …
… making more money and finding justification -his new baby- to keep cooking more meth …
… leading eventually to the abandonment of all moral principles … i.e. ‘breaking bad’
Ordinary Men – ‘Breaking bad’ isn’t the behaviour of an imaginary TV star, but of ‘ordinary men’ – Extraordinary situations and make people do extraordinary things, the killers of the Jews were ordinary men and very often medical professionals. Given a choice, only about 20% refused to join in. See also Milgram experiment.
Doctors are ordinary men and women too, and hospitals are extraordinary places. Menzies Lyth showed that hospital culture was designed to protect nurses from the burden of psychological involvement with patients, by separating their duties into their constituent parts, temperatures, blood pressures etc. rather than care of the whole patient.
Michael Balint wrote about the ‘collusion of anonymity’ in which specialists took care of their organs of interest, but nobody took care of the patient.
Providing healthcare can be extremely stressful:
Why managing emotion is such a crucial task. Excellent brief review of the literature.
Threats cannot make healthcare workers more compassionate. Paul Gilbert et. al.
When Doctors are Bullies, Patients Suffer. Excellent USA Today article with good links.
A study of empathy decline in students from five health disciplines during their first year of training International Journal of Medical Education 2011
Mid Staffs: Does this introduction help explain what happened at Mid Staffs? Bullying and the abuse of power, the failure to take responsibility for the whole patient? Does empathy decline during medical training and practice?
Scepticism and Scientific Integrity
Do we question what we are told? Do we present evidence honestly to each other and our patients?
Lies, Damn Lies and Medical Evidence, The remarkable Dr John Ioannidis Atlantic Magazine Essay.
- We rarely use decision support aids. Patients’ preferences matter: stop the silent misdiagnosis – The King’s Fund, May 2012
- NHS patient decision aids online.
- We are poor at explaining the risks of medications and screening, in particular breast and prostate screening is very controversial and thousands of people are misdiagnosed as having cancer every year. See The Patient Paradox, book and Private Screens website that explains both the benefits and the risks of screening, both by GP, Dr Margaret McCartney
- We need to be able to appraise and explain medical research, as a minimum we need to be clear about the differences between efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency, between absolute risk reduction and relative risk reduction – also good explanation here and about numbers needed to treat.
- Why do we always end up here? Evidence based medicine’s conceptual cul-de-sacs and some off-road alternative routes.
- What Evidence Do We Need for Evidence Based Medicine?
- We need to realise that up to half of what we need to know about the effectiveness and safety of drugs is not reported BadPharma Rxisk
- We need to sign up to AllTrials and demand that the missing data is made available
- We must recognise financial incentives, they lead to perverse incentives in which doctors over investigate and over treat their patients to raise money for themselves and their hospitals. Overdiagnosed, Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, Competition in Healthcare: the risks, Winding back the harms of Too Much Medicine BMJ.
- The Political Economy of Healthcare,We should understand the Inverse Care Law which states: “The availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need for it in the population served. This … operates more completely where medical care is most exposed to market forces, and less so where such exposure is reduced.”
- The Cost Conundrum,
- The Bitter Pill, Why Medical Bills are Killing us
- “There are still plenty of honest doctors out there. But it’s getting harder all the time. Without actually intending it, we have created a medical system in which deception is not just tolerated, but actually rewarded” White Coat, Black Hat
I believe that ‘professionalism is the basis of medicine’s contract with society’. Our training and our wages are almost entirely paid for out of taxation and so we have a duty to ensure a healthy society. Rudolf Virchow was only 27 years of age when he studied the Typhus epidemic and he spent the rest of his life fighting for social reforms. He is best remembered for saying,
Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale. Medicine, as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution: the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution… The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and social problems fall to a large extent within their jurisdiction.
The inspirational essay, To Isiah, by Donald Berwick is a call to doctors young and old to take on this role today,
And your voice—every one—can be loud, and forceful, and confident, and your voice will be trusted . . . please use it.
Patient Centered Care is greatly misunderstood. In practice it means listening carefully and seriously to what our patients are telling us, and working out, with them, what they mean. It is a skill that takes years of practice, immense patience, and reflection. Recently retired president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Iona Heath has written beautifully about what it entails. See also, the End of the Disease Era
The importance of listening to patients cannot be overstated.
Narrative Diagnosis. John Launer, postgraduate medical journal.
Kindness and Compassion
Exert from Do Doctors need to be Kind?
Iona Heath, in her review of Intelligent Kindness for the British Medical Journal writes,
… it is easy to forget the appalling nature of some of the jobs carried out by NHS staff day in, day out—the damage, the pain, the mess they encounter, the sheer stench of diseased human flesh and its waste products.” Of course, such forgetfulness is not at all easy for those actually doing this work, those struggling not to allow any hint of their physical revulsion to show, but these challenges seem hardly to register in the conscience or consciousness of those charged with the running of the NHS.
The NHS represents the last vestige of social inclusiveness and solidarity for frail, elderly people; for traumatised children; for people with intellectual disability, dementia, or severe mental health problems; and for people who repeatedly harm themselves, either directly, or persistently through the misuse of drugs and alcohol. And yet the staff who do the hard work of maintaining that solidarity are subject to a constant stream of criticism, efficiency savings, and instructions to do better. Exposed to precious little kindness themselves, they are nonetheless expected to provide it unstintingly. “There is a lack of understanding, a lack of thoughtful connection—a lack of kindness in the way the organisation as a whole is treated.”
“I found that healthcare workers were some 70% more likely to have developed work related stress, depression, or anxiety than was the general workforce” “NHS management seemed not to understand that it had a duty to protect its staff from the pressures under which they were working. This was a callous disregard for staff wellbeing.” “… the 2012 prevalence of work related mental health problems in health professionals was 110% higher than in the general workforce”
What can be done?
First of all we need to start talking about kindness. We need to talk about the value of kindness in healthcare and agree that it has been neglected and that we need to take action. Everyone involved in health leadership and policy should read Intelligent Kindness, in summing up her review of Iona Heath wrote, “If I ruled the world, I would arrange for everyone who wields any power in the NHS to be locked in a room until they had read it.”
Once we have agreed that it is important we need to do something to institutionalise kindness. We must focus on patients by improving continuity and a holistic approach to care. In order to be kind to patients, we must cultivate kindness between and towards ourselves. John Launer described an experiment at Indiana Medical school in which researchers recorded the positive narratives of students and staff, focusing on postive experiences and not the failures and critical incidents they were used to. They were then presented with the findings, “One participant is quoted as saying afterwards: “Now that I see how good we really are, I have to ask myself why we tolerate it when people aren’t as good as this. I can’t look on quietly any more when people are disrespectful or hurtful. It’s no longer okay to remain silent; this is too important.” Kindness improved quality of clinical care and was contageous, spreading and tranforming the organisation.
The relentless focus on efficiency and productivity in healthcare highlights the intrusion of market values into the NHS. There is an urgent need to to defend the values of social solidarity and rediscover an intellectual and emotional understanding that self-interest and the interests of others are bound together and acting upon that understanding. By committing ourselves to the values of kindness we may yet rescue the NHS.
Intelligent Kindness: Reforming the Culture of Healthcare. John Ballatt & Penelope Campling. RCPsych Publications.
Kindness in Healthcare, What goes around. Iona Heath review of Intelligent Kindness BMJ
Compassionate Care: The Theory and The Reality. J. Holistic Healthcare 2011
Final slide: The Circus
Medicine is a part of the culture we live in, one that is increasingly individualistic, self-interested, business-minded and in which we are all in too much of a rush to sit down and talk seriously with eachother and listen to eachother’s stories. We are all players in the circus of life.
But if we are to take something positive, it is perhaps that we are able to share our stories, our knowledge and insights in other ways. Thanks to social media, I have been inspired by a huge number of people from all around the world to think about what it means to be a good doctor and ‘be good’. It’s given me a lot to think about and some dizzying heights to aspire to.
I will add links and references as I discover them and keep the blog updated.