Tim does a great review over at his blog today on a new book that’s out. Profound reflections. Might be worth picking up for some of us.
She found that her vocation, which is premised on caring for those who are ill, also systematically depersonalizes dying. Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, another book I found on the New York Times list of bestsellers, represents her attempt to come to terms with this brutal truth of the medical profession.
In a profession made attractive by the power to cure, it is rare to find the young medical student who dreams of caring for terminal patients. But in a society where more than 90 percent of us will die for a prolonged illness, physicians have become the final guardians of life, charged with shepherding the terminally ill and their families through the intricacies of the end. Most patients and their families fully expect physicians to be able to comfort and provide that support. For doctors, this care at the end of life is, as this book’s title implies, our final exam.
Chen’s next words are revealing. “Unfortunately, few doctors are up to the task.” The problem is that most doctors quickly learn to suspend or suppress any shared human feeling for dying patients, as if this is the key to being a successful physician. Chen found that these lessons in denial and depersonalization began as early as her first encounter with death in the gross anatomy dissection lab where she spent weeks dissecting a cadaver, and that they continued through her residency and practice.