Humanism in Medicine

by Ameer Abdulrahman

Having shadowed physicians for a number of hours, I couldn’t help but notice a disconnect between the patients and some of these physicians. This led me to do research on the lack of compassion in the medical field and what I could possibly do to make a change. Luckily, about a year ago, I received an email from my Pre-Med advisor. In this email, there was a short introduction to an organization promoting humanism in medicine. After attending multiple meetings, I had officially joined the organization. For about a semester now, every Thursday at 6 pm, about seven other students and I meet to bring speakers and events to student across campus at The Ohio State University. We proudly stand as the undergraduate branch of The Ohio State University’s, Medical School, Humanism In Medicine. 
Being in Pre-Med, I obsessively read about the medical industry, how it can grow and what it is lacking. After realizing this disconnect between patients and physicians, I couldn’t help but start seeing a rise in articles speaking on this very topic. I began to dig deeper, quickly noting that the divide with doctors and patients was not only an issue growing in the US but one that we are globally suffering from. 
With emotionless, impassive, doctors roaming around our hospitals, simply checking off boxes, there has been a deterioration in our healthcare’s stature. As students go through Undergrad and Medical School, these physicians were emotionally and mentally beaten to their last breath. From worrying about their exam scores to pulling countless all nighters studying. With all respect and credit given to these physicians, that is not a reason to forget the importance of the patient physician relationship, although it seems many already have. 
Issues regarding the patient physician relationship are very common. So much so we’ve become so accustomed to it that now it’s something we’ve almost completely disregarded. We’re so used to seeing these zombie-like doctors shamble into a room, blandly going through a checklist and eventually prescribe some pills for us to pop. As a healthcare industry, we’ve lost our path, we’ve forgotten about the importance of just purely being human. And now here we are, at a point where communicating with doctors seems to be at an all time low. 
Hearing my self constantly ranting about healthcare, at times I pace around and just wait for someone to ask me about “the humanistic value.” And one night at a graduation party the question had finally come to rise, “ So what, exactly, do you mean by Humanism?” I quickly stuck my chest out, held my chin up and asserted to some parents of the graduates, “Humanism is compassion and empathy. It’s going the extra mile. It’s a spark and connection you build with people that reassure them that you’re there to help.” With the looks I got, it was pretty clear that everyone knew this was a rehearsed answer. So I looked up, sighed and genuinely said “Honestly, it’s more than that. Humanism is being able to look a person in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing. It’s actually showing a person that you give a damn about what they’re going through and that you’re there to help. It’s about being a genuinely caring person before being some fancy professional, in this case, a physician.”

Humanism is being able to look a person in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing. It’s actually showing a person that you give a damn about what they’re going through and that you’re there to help.

Slowly nodding their heads, it was pretty clear that they appreciated my definition of humanism. Being parents though, they couldn’t help but want me to elaborate more on what I thought. So I slowly squinted my eyes and explained,“ Look, frankly, I really don’t give a damn about whether or not someone has a piece of paper that says they are legally practicing physicians. That’s not a good enough explanation for hospitals to hire zombies to try and take care of our health.” With both eyebrows raised, one father asked me “So how much does this actually hurt the patient?” Eagerly I shouted, “A LOT!” Knowing that I might have yelled that a little too loudly I quickly hunched my shoulders up and lowered my head. I mentioned how “There have a been a lot studies on how doctor’s bedside manners affects a patients health.” Patients with impassive, robotic, doctors aren’t very compliant and they won’t always feel comfortable sharing important health details with such a doctor. 
Seeing that I thought I had all the answers, that same father egged me on and was curious to hear my response to how I think I can fix the issue. Little did he know that I’ve been preparing for this question for the last 8 months or so. “ HUMANISM IN MEDICINE!” Explaining what our promising organization does, I spoke of our future goals and some difficulties we may face. Informing him how “It’s tough to change something that is already set in stone. To make a lasting and effective difference, we need to make an impact in the generating period. In this case, that would be anytime before student’s graduate medical school and preferably in undergrad.” The promotion of humanism throughout the medical field is essential to the growth of our healthcare system. We can no longer have doctors who are cold, quiet and detached take care of our patients. We are missing a key component to the patient physician relationship and it’s really beginning to be put on display. It’s extremely important to raise awareness on this issue and build a more humanistic healthcare industry. 
Impressed with everything I was saying, these parents offered their assistance in any way possible if needed. But winning over a group of some parents isn’t enough. 
The importance of our physicians having this humanistic trait is essential to progressing towards a more inclusive and complete healthcare system. Patients must feel more connected and cared for by their caregivers. It would be ignorant of us to go about treating our patient’s illnesses without truly treating our patients first. There must be a level of compassion, a connection between the patient and physician. Having impassive and robotic physicians only gets us further away from our goal of a healthier society. If patients are truly the principle concern, then we can no longer neglect the absence of the humanistic value.