What Doctors Feel
How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine
A look at the emotional side of medicine—the shame, fear, anger, anxiety, empathy, and even love that affect patient care
Physicians are assumed to be objective, rational beings, easily able to detach as they guide patients and families through some of life’s most challenging moments. But doctors’ emotional responses to the life-and-death dramas of everyday practice have a profound impact on medical care. And while much has been written about the minds and methods of the medical professionals who save our lives, precious little has been said about their emotions. In What Doctors Feel, Dr. Danielle Ofri has taken on the task of dissecting the hidden emotional responses of doctors, and how these directly influence patients.
How do the stresses of medical life—from paperwork to grueling hours to lawsuits to facing death—affect the medical care that doctors can offer their patients? Digging deep into the lives of doctors, Ofri examines the daunting range of emotions—shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair, and sometimes even love—that permeate the contemporary doctor-patient connection. Drawing on scientific studies, including some surprising research, Dr. Danielle Ofri offers up an unflinching look at the impact of emotions on health care.
With her renowned eye for dramatic detail, Dr. Ofri takes us into the swirling heart of patient care, telling stories of caregivers caught up and occasionally torn down by the whirlwind life of doctoring. She admits to the humiliation of an error that nearly killed one of her patients and her forever fear of making another. She mourns when a beloved patient is denied a heart transplant. She tells the riveting stories of an intern traumatized when she is forced to let a newborn die in her arms, and of a doctor whose daily glass of wine to handle the frustrations of the ER escalates into a destructive addiction. But doctors don’t only feel fear, grief, and frustration. Ofri also reveals that doctors tell bad jokes about “toxic sock syndrome,” cope through gallows humor, find hope in impossible situations, and surrender to ecstatic happiness when they triumph over illness. The stories here reveal the undeniable truth that emotions have a distinct effect on how doctors care for their patients. For both clinicians and patients, understanding what doctors feel can make all the difference in giving and getting the best medical care.
Praise for Danielle Ofri
“The world of patient and doctor exists in a special sacred space. Danielle Ofri brings us into that place where science and the soul meet. Her vivid and moving prose enriches the mind and turns the heart.” —Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think
“Danielle Ofri is a finely gifted writer, a born storyteller as well as a born physician.” —Oliver Sacks, author of Awakenings
“Danielle Ofri … is dogged, perceptive, unafraid, and willing to probe her own motives, as well as those of others. This is what it takes for a good physician to arrive at the truth, and these same qualities make her an essayist of the first order.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“Danielle Ofri has so much to say about the remarkable intimacies between doctor and patient, about the bonds and the barriers, and above all about how doctors come to understand their powers and their limitations.” —Perri Klass, MD, author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure
“Her writing tumbles forth with color and emotion. She demonstrates an ear for dialogue, a humility about the limits of her medical training, and an extraordinary capacity to be touched by human suffering.” —Jan Gardner, Boston Globe
From the Hardcover edition.
- Beacon Press, June 2013
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