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Doctors do cry

Sonal Pruthi, Ashish Goel

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2014.063


Physicians have tried to understand whether crying for a patient is a raw emotion that demonstrates their lack of control over themselves and the situation, or whether it is a sign of humanity and concern for one’s fellow beings. Studies on medical students and doctors’narrations of times when they have shed tears over a patient’s suffering or death have established beyond doubt that medical students and physicians are not immune to their patients’suffering and may cry when overwhelmed by stress and emotions. Even though humanity is the cornerstone of medicine, depersonalisation has somehow crept into the physician–patient relationship and crying is considered incompatible with the image of a good physician, who is supposed to be strong, confident and fully in charge. Thus, crying has been equated to weakness and at times, incompetence. This could be attributed to the fact that our medical curriculum has ingrained in us the belief that emotion clouds rationality and prevents us from being objective while making decisions regarding a patient’s clinical progress. Our curriculum fails to teach us how to handle emotional situations, witness the dying process, communicate bad news, interact with the bereaved during the period of grief immediately following death, and reduce the professional stress involved in working with newly bereaved persons. Our training focuses on cure, amelioration of disease and the restoration of good health, with little emphasis on death, which is an absolute reality. It is crucial that medical educators take note of these lacunae in the curriculum. Physicians and teachers must recognise and accept the emotions that medical students experience in these situations, and teach them to offer their patients a sound blend of rationality and compassion with an attitude of humility.

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