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Good doctor

Good doctor

An old Chinese proverb is entirely relevant to the question of a good doctor, when ‘pill-pushing for all’ has become the order of the day. The proverb says: the superior doctor prevents sickness, the mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness, and the inferior doctor treats actual sickness.’  However a good doctor is ‘Approachable, confident, decisive, intelligent, interested, compassionate and caring – being able to absorb people’s pain and anxieties without losing focus, treating patients as a human being rather than a symptom or collection of symptoms’.   It is important to have empathy; ‘without thinking, help an animal in distress’, that person should become a doctor!  Nobody expects a doctor to be perfect all the time, but it is essential that he keeps his knowledge up to date, deal with situations calmly and thoughtfully. By doing this and by staying calm, the patients can see that you are in control of the situation and they will find it easier to trust you. Confidentiality is extremely important. It is a fundamental strand of medical ethics. They need to feel safe in your company to disclose information at their discretion, and they need to be sure that anything they say will not leave your office. Equally important is respect and fairness. A good doctor must be able to treat all patients equally, regardless of their ethnicity, lifestyle choices or conduct. Similarly society must provide for the basic needs and respect to the doctor for him to stay ethical.

Attentiveness is all important. Going that extra mile and treating each patient as an individual rather than a statistic is a key part of being a doctor and is something that will help to avoid any complications caused through taking shortcuts. The next quality a doctor must be scientific, being self critical, accepting nothing without proof and be willing to be self critical and  be corrected if found wanting. We can’t be bad drivers, cunning tax evaders and moral destitute, religious fanatic and yet be a good doctor.  A doctor must also be a good listener as well as communicative. Poor communicators never really soothe the pain.

Ethical behavior is never to do wrong, never to prescribe what you would not take in the first place, never to order an investigation unless you are absolutely sure that the result may change your treatment protocol and never to do a more complicated procedure when a simpler thing would have had nearly the same result. What is the difference between God and a Surgeon? – God does not think He is a surgeon!. But many surgeons have Godly attitude that they can cure anything; manage anything by surgery when a non surgical option would be as effective.   First, he is in awe of what others can do, then he is happy that he can do the same, then he is in awe of what he himself can do, then he is worried more about what can go wrong than what can go right. The good ones get to this stage, and  then unintended enthusiasm gives way to calculated judgment and wise restraint. But a few, go a level higher- where he or she doesn’t really care. This is the failure of good morals, where power corrupts and lofty self belief ignores reason, much like the powerful heads in government and religion today.   If you can point out one single thing in the society that has led to degradation of the image of the doctor in the society, it is the image that the physician has inadvertently created in the society that he is above criticism. Another is his greed and irrational and uncaring attitude. Sometimes doctors have to tell the patients that they are unaware of something or that they cannot find out a reason and also reassure them that they will make every attempt to rectify. Strangely, this behavior comes not out of lack of knowledge, but out of wisdom. And to reach this level,doctors have to update themselves every day. It is often seen in doctors’ forums that there is a shocking lack of knowledge of protocols. If they all acted as one, their image in the society will reach a lofty level, that they were used to, in the not too distant past.  It is also desirable that they carry themselves well. Not everyone is blessed with good looks, but the elegance of a well dressed physician creates a good first impression and that counts. It is not only about the physical appearance, but surroundings, staff, all should exhibit this professional facade which is confidence instilling.

If they have had the patience to go through this rather exhaustive analysis, they will realize that these are life skills that they usually pick up in school. And a good doctor is made much before he or she passes the MBBS graduation examination. If they have a ward, a friend or a acquaintance who we feel exhibits these qualities and expresses the desire to become a doctor, do sit back and watch with pride. He or she will never disappoint your lofty ideals. But it also means that if we find someone who is not of this mould, gently reprimand him or her. For the lack of some of these very qualities that do not augur well a good medical professional life, maybe invaluable in another profession.

Merely passing entrance examination or scoring high does not ensure to make one a good doctor. Having qualities of head and heart to help the patients in distress is paramount. While selecting a student for  medical  career such qualities should get greater weightage, than the marks obtained.


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