December 28, 2004


A Young Doctor's Hardest Lesson: Keep Your Mouth Shut (KENT SEPKOWITZ, M.D., 12/28/04, NY Times)

[L]ast month, my wife and I bumped into an acquaintance of hers while walking along the street. The person, unbeknownst to my wife, is a patient of mine, someone whom I treat for a chronic infection. After the patient and I shared a moment of mutual panic, we three chatted amicably and moved on.

Except, that evening, my wife kept asking me why I was being so quiet and, well, boring. And I suddenly saw the problem: doctors are waterlogged with secrets, hundreds of them, thousands of them.

Each day brings a new batch: patients' admissions about drug use or sexual indiscretion, a hidden family, a long-held dream, an ancient heartache, undisclosed H.I.V. infection.

Over the years, this begins to add up, the bulge expands, the joints get stiff. Yet the secret - the consequences of our ever-expanding repository of others' secrets - remains, well, secretive. The situation simply is not addressed, not at the start, middle, or the end of a career.

The most difficult aspect of a training doctor's life is not suddenly bearing witness to someone else's pain and death; it is not adjusting to arduous work hours; it is not the imposing amount to be learned and synthesized. These surely are intense, life-transforming endeavors but are still related to other experiences.

No, the biggest shock along the road to becoming a doctor is the startling revelation that you can ask and the patient will tell anything.

The hard part is shutting them up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2004 8:37 AM

There are a few reasons why doctors are underappreciated, but I'm not sure this is one of them. Does this guy think lawyers, detectives, priests and ministers, and even military commanders have it easier? I hope he's not headed towards founding a new self-help group.

But it does bring to mind one of Rumpole's better quips: "One of the problems about being a lawyer is that you learn more about human nature than is good for you to know."

Posted by: Peter B at December 28, 2004 10:49 AM

Amen, Peter!

Posted by: Dave W. at December 28, 2004 11:26 PM