Western medicine is the modern model of healing.
To it, we bring the experience of aeons, going back to the time of Hippocrates and Plato, and beyond to the time of ancient herbal healers. Today’s knowledge is broad and extensive and rapidly evolving, and over our own lifetimes as doctors, we have seen things that we thought would be impossible when we were students, become common practice.
Why is medicine therefore accused of not meeting our patients’ needs?
Why is it falling short of its promises?
And why is medicine harming us as practitioners?
Is the very evidence-based knowledge that we revere, something that we are applying to ourselves, when it comes to lifestyle-related diseases?
Are we as a profession practising what we preach?
Evidence-based medicine on its own is clearly not enough, and there is more to the practise of true medicine, which is an art, as well as a science. For medicine to be healing, it needs to be practised with care, compassion and love, both for our patients and ourselves.
Current media reports about the levels of depression, anxiety, burnout and exhaustion among doctors, and the heartbreaking stories of doctor suicides, have forced us as a profession to take an honest look at our own health and wellbeing.
We do not believe that as a profession, we should accept anything less than true wellbeing – which is waking feeling vital, full of energy and enthusiasm for our work and for the day – rather than the levels of suffering, distress, hardship, and physical and mental illness that many of us are now experiencing.
How can we support others in their illness if we ourselves are far from whole and well?
How can we stand back and watch the collateral damage of suffering in our colleagues?
Here we will look at the current state of doctors’ health and wellbeing, and the barriers to self-care we have created within our profession. We are not superhuman, even though we try and behave as if we are the superheroes of old, and we are working and living like this at the great expense of our patients, our families and ourselves.
We must review the culture of medicine from the time we enter medical school to the environments we work in. We deserve nothing less than true wellbeing.
By Dr Jane Barker and Dr Anne Malatt – Photography by Alan Johnston