How can we 'heal' the doctors?

NYT op/ed writer revisits 'Healer's Art' column

Many doctors are burned out and disillusioned, David Bornstein writes in the New York Times, noting that his September column on the "Healer's Art" medical school course touched a sore spot and illustrates the continuing challenges with the profession.

Readers welcome the 'Healer's Art'

The Healer's Art course, which has spread to half of the nation's medical schools, focuses on the idea that medicine is an ancient calling that draws its strength from compassion, service, reverence for life, and aversion to harm, Bornstein writes.

Student and faculty meet in small groups in the evening—as equals—to discuss their experiences. The course addresses grief and other critical, non-medical issues that doctors will face over the course of their careers. Physicians learn to express compassion in different, unorthodox ways, such as crying alongside a patient.

Although a handful of readers "raised a red flag" to some of those methods, hundreds of comments poured in from doctors who experienced a "sense of betrayal" upon building their careers, Bornstein says.

"I am a primary care doctor who started idealistic, and am [now] disillusioned," according to one reader. "We simply don't have the time we need to do our jobs well. And we all lose."

Bornstein suggests that this is why the Healer's Art class is so important: It keeps frustrated doctors from abandoning the system or building cynical "walls of protection," but instead helps them derive meaning from their work and "transform [their] daily experiences."

Doctors may not be able to change the system, but they can "begin by expressing the thing that is most precious to them that has been lost: the opportunity to practice medicine in a way that is worthy of their dedication and love," Bornstein writes, adding that "[r]eclaiming a sense of meaning in medicine could be the first step to rescuing the profession" (Bornstein, "The Opinionator," New York Times, 10/2).

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