In medicine we are taught to think and live life from our heads.
We are taught facts and figures, and we are taught to be rational.
We are taught to approach things logically, from our heads, and we learn to relate to people from our heads.
We are perpetually analysing data, from our heads, and we end up talking from our heads.
There is a focus on mental acuity, mental strength and mental perspicacity.
But given that medicine is people and people love and care from their hearts, then where is the focus on connecting with people from our hearts?
We all know deep within that love and care for people is the foundation of medicine and healthcare. Its absolute bedrock.
When we are ill, we do not crave our mothers or fathers to speak to us with mental acuity, or to rattle off facts to us about the latest studies. We seek to be met with their hearts, with love and care. And deep down this is what we all seek. To be loved and to be and to feel cared for.
Given that medicine is about people, and at our core we all seek to be loved and to feel cared for, and this is a vital part of healing and feeling well – then why do we not make this a focus in medicine?
Where did the heart of medicine go?
The heart of medicine has not gone, it has simply been less focussed on in medical school and policy making and course design. As long as there are people in medicine, medicine will ever have heart.
We, are that beating heart of medicine.
But, as a professional group we have been in such a rush and in such a focus to ensure that students and young doctors learn as much as possible that we have forgotten to care for our students and we have forgotten to love our students and doctors, whilst we exhort them to achieve mythical and impossible standards of perfection.
But does one need to abandon love and care in pursuit of excellent clinical care?
And, if we train, teach, mentor and employ people in a way that is not loving and is not caring, and we do not teach them how to love and care for people, including themselves, then how can we expect them to be loving and caring of others? Those who seek health care services, and, their colleagues.
Our profession is one of care, so how is it that care is not the bedrock of all education and training?
There are of course a few people in medicine who continue through medicine with their hearts intact. With their care intact and their well-being better than others, and others who reclaim it later in life. But these few seem to be vastly the exception rather than the rule. These few ones are known in their communities and are known in their professional communities. They stand out.
But, why is is this something that is so rare and is not our cultural norm?
What if living with care and love was in fact our normal?
What if this was our unquestioned ordinary every day way in medicine?
There are many things in the system and structure of medicine that are not quite right and some of it odiously off.
There are many aspects of the system that are completely bereft of care and humanity for both patients and doctors alike and others that are frankly abusive.
Many of us are aware of it, and some of us write about it.
How in a caring profession can we have even one aspect of the system bereft of human care?
It seems ludicrous, but that is the reality we face daily in our profession and health care system.
If we produced and trained people with love and care, then how might these people, future doctors, approach patients and ultimately structuring the very systems that en-house doctors and patients and support the delivery of the best possible health care?
Whilst we certainly have an individual responsibility to self-determine, we are products of our environments until we learn to transcend our environments and bring our own quality to our environments.
We can all bring our heart and care to medicine, and to our lives should we choose to. Our systems are at present uncaring, but we do not need to wait eons for the systems and structures to give us permission to bring a more caring and loving way of being to medicine.
What might living with heart in medicine look like?
Would it benefit anyone?
It would look like a culture where there was true love and care and support between colleagues and peers.
It would look like a culture where well-being was valued, encouraged and supported, not exhorted.
It would look like a culture where taking care of yourself was a natural part of life.
It would look like a culture where patients were treated as equal people and great relationships were forged, that had more heart and care and human connection than simply clinical information, instructions and timelines.
It would look like a culture where people are motivated to learn and work from heart and care in joy, and not a desire for personal gain or prestige.
It would look like a culture where people are motivated to take care of themselves with love, and not abuse their bodies, and subsequently others, to just make it through the day.
It would look like a culture where people were open, caring and loving with one another. Where teams worked together in a caring and productive way, with respect and dignity.
And could any of that possibly be a bad thing?
Is it truly and seriously thought that we will be stupid and unable to understand life if we connect and live life from our hearts? That we will be pushovers, unable to discern and decide?
Surely not. Love and care does not mean that one is stupid. It does not mean that one is not astute. In fact, far from it. Stress and tension and anxiety affect our ability to remember things and be present in our jobs. Feeling secure and steady in love and care and well-being can only enhance one’s ability to discern and to observe as one is not in the distracting agitation of fight or flight mode.
So why is it that our care and our love are not the foundational quality and principle in medical education and training?
We know that stress and burnout lead to lower patient satisfaction and higher rates of medical error. Is it not time to consider a new approach?
When we consider that people are the heart of life and the core of medicine, then it makes no sense that our medical training and our working becomes so head predominant at the expense of our love and care and our well-being.
Our well-being is not a random dispensation, it comes from the way that we are with ourselves, and loving relationships have been identified as a key part of well-being.
Our way of well-being begins with our quality of connection, our quality of care and love.
What if being loving with people – including ourselves – was our natural state, and that shutting that down and acting cold, hard and clinical and competitive were part of the factors contributing to our ill health as a profession?
We know that things in medicine are dire. Our profession is in crisis and it is clear that the current way and culture is not supporting our well-being, nor the best possible patient care.
Its very clear that its time for a change.
Knowing that people are the heart of medicine and we are equally that heart, why not set as our foundation in medicine our quality of love and care and make that the bedrock from which all knowledge springs and is taught?
Now that’s food for thought.