Photo of doctor and patient for article on relationships and medicine by Dr Anne Malatt

Relationships and medicine

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Medicine is all about relationships. It is about caring for people, after all. So why do we place so little focus on this vital element of our profession?

In Medicine, as in life, we relate to so many different people … during our training, our teachers, fellow students, all the staff at university and in the hospitals and clinics we attend; and then to our colleagues, fellow workers, patients and their families. And as it is all one life, these relationships affect and are affected by all our other relationships … with our parents and other childhood carers, who shape and inform the way we are and live our lives; with our family and friends; and with everyone we meet as we go about our day.

The quality of these relationships can make the difference between whether we love our lives and people, and our interactions with everyone we meet, or whether we don’t. They can make life a challenge or a joy, and sometimes both!

So how do we learn to be in relationship with each other?

Very little focus is placed on the way we relate in Medicine … traditionally it is such a hierarchical structure and we have been used as doctors to being in charge and telling people what to do and having them follow our prescriptive orders. But times have changed and the paternalistic do-as-you-are-told-because-I-know-what-is-good-for-you-better-than-you-do-yourself attitudes are no longer so widely accepted. People are becoming more informed about their health and more willing to assert themselves and their trust in and knowing of their own bodies in their medical relationships and it is time for us as a profession to respond to that call and treat them with the love, care and respect that all people deserve.

What is the nature of a true relationship?

Traditional relationships, be they with a partner, family or at work, are often unequal, with one person or persons in a more dominant role and the other or others in a more submissive role, like traditional male partners with their wives, parents with their children, doctors with their patients.

But this is not a true relationship. For we are all in essence equal, no matter what role we play, no matter what job we do. The quality of true relationship is based on the essence of who we are, which is the same in all of us, and that essence is love. So when we relate from our essence, we relate from, with and in love.

This is not the love most of us have been raised and educated to know love to be, but the truth about love, which is a beholding energy, that holds ourselves and everyone around us in the love that we are, that is our innermost essence. This love does not demand, expect, need, pander, seek reward or recognition, does not own, takes no effort, does not think it knows, is not entitled, or any of the things we may have come to associate with love. Love just loves. Love just is.

At the end of the day, all that any of us want is to love and to be loved. Truly loved. And that is true medicine. The lack of true love, which comes from our separation from the love we innately are, is at the heart of most if not all illness and disease and restoring love to our relationships, starting with our relationship with ourselves, would go a long way to restoring true health and wellbeing for all of us.

When we start with love in our relationships, living and relating from the essence of who we are, everyone and everything is taken care of. For love is true medicine.

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