The emotional cost of medical practice

By Matt Kuhrt

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Both doctors and patients crave empathetic relationships, but those relationships and the spirited patient advocacy they inspire can come at a steep price when they land physicians in hot water with their peers or with institutions, cautions Paul Keckley, Ph.D,  managing director for the Navigant Center for Healthcare Research and Policy Analysis, in a post in Pulse Weekly.

The recently released film Concussion illustrates the Hollywood appeal of a doctor sticking to his guns despite strong opposition to his claims from the National Football League. Bennett Omalu, M.D.'s, quest to get the public to recognize the correlation between chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the repeated concussions received by football players generates a powerful cinematic narrative because it fits tidily into the standard trope of a maligned everyman character speaking truth to a large organization heavily invested in its own image. The personal cost of Omalu's heterodoxy saw him run out of Pittsburgh and harassed by the league before general acceptance of his views eventually won out.

In this and other movies about quirky doctors, Keckley sees a critical tension that plays out throughout the medical industry, where lives and careers are changed because a physician's professional instincts overcome the pressure to conform with the expectations of peers, administrations or institutions.

As a general rule, we trust physicians. The post cites Gallup surveys that indicate doctors trail only nurses and pharmacists at the apex of public respect for a profession. We also know that patients are more satisfied with their care when they receive it with empathy.

The flip side lies in the frustration doctors feel with the increasing number of elements that challenge their professional judgment and encroach on their relationships with patients. Keckley reminds us that it pays to remember the sometimes high cost at which doctors earn that respect.

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To learn more:
- check out the post in Pulse Weekly