Humanity, Love, & Medicine
Iku Nwosu, Meds '22
“I love our patients” is a routine statement from healthcare professionals and students. It is a statement so common it rarely packs a punch. Love is funny in medicine. Funny because we will hopefully love our patients, and love what we do; love can define that feeling of fulfillment we yearn for. Yet, love can also seem so indisputably inappropriate.
Spin love differently - by telling a patient you love them. The thought can leave you tongue-tied. Suddenly it feels so wrongly direct, across a line that we have created for ourselves. Now, I am not denying the importance of this line and the problems that would arise without it. And no, I do not foresee or encourage a future where we express our love to patients explicitly in the wards. I am simply acknowledging love, humanity, and medicine intertwined. Given love plays such a transformative role in medicine, perhaps we should challenge this boundary we have created for ourselves in pursuit of better patient care.
“Pearls” in medicine are almost never about medicine in the literal sense - or at least the really good ones. Some great ones I’ve received are simple lessons: be generous with your patients; remember the reason you chose medicine; do not make assumptions of patients and their stories. It is uncanny how many of them relate back to virtues; kindness, compassion, and remarkably - love. People show love in medicine as part of an unconscious routine. It speaks to the humanity that persists, and lacking in it is just not an option. Medicine catches people on their best and worst days, or somewhere in between. To be impactful on any of these days, anywhere on this spectrum, people need to feel like you feel something. People respond to love. Despite this natural unease that can surround the concept of love, people accept it.
Medicine is filled with anecdotes; the experiences we have in healthcare become the stories we talk about. Growing up, I watched my parents love seeing our family physician. Their need to get a prescription refilled also came with a true desire to catch up with someone they considered a friend. These impressions made by a healthcare professional are seen across patients, from the most debilitating illness experiences to the ongoing relationships in primary care. We very unsubtly do a disservice to those who cannot share the same sentiments. Not everyone loves going to the doctor – we see that for many the system can feel unwelcoming and rooted in hostility. Our feelings about a place and its people, and our perception of their feelings towards us will direct how often we go to it.
Acknowledging this tongue-tied feeling around a concept like love in medicine, is acknowledging a part of our humanity. It is unlikely much will ever change about how we talk about love in medicine; in many ways these boundaries keep people safe. Perhaps, in the future we will play with these boundaries as humans, as we slowly recognize what complex beings we are in a world changing so quickly around us. Love and medicine cannot be separated because love and humanity cannot be separated.
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