The definition of a good athlete, a good prosecutor, or a good artiste is fairly easy. It’s the one who scores most goals, the one who puts most criminals behind bars, and the one who sells millions of albums. The best soccer team is the one that takes home the most trophies. Having said that however, I must point out that arsenal in my opinion still remains the better team albeit it’s poor goal record.
On the other hand, what makes a good doctor is more difficult to define. Using specific parameters to measure how good a doctor is, is one of the biggest challenges for health managers. The best doctor is not the one who heals most patients, because in many specialties, cure is not the goal of patient management. In fact some of the best doctors I know are in specialties that take care of patients with terminal illnesses.
It’s not the one whose patients live the longest, because in many situations we need to add life to our patients’ days rather than adding days to their lives. In fact in some circumstances prolonging/sustaining life may be considered undesirable by the patient and his/her loved ones.
It’s not the cleverest or most knowledgeable one since there’s still so much we don’t know in medicine, that if that were the only parameter we’d all fall short.
Not the one with the best people skills, because that’s not enough in the craft of medicine. It’s definitely not the one who rakes in the most money for their practice. In my opinion however these are parameters we can’t trash wholesome when we attempt to define the attributes of a good doctor. Enough of what a good doctor is not.
To different people a good doctor means different things but there are some key attributes that most people agree on.
- A good doctor is humane, a good person. He is a friend, compulsively compassionate, respectful, patient, a good listener and available. He takes interest in the patient as a person and not as a constellation of symptoms.
- A good doctor appreciates and admits their limitation.
- A good doctor has a high tolerance for ‘not knowing’ and knows when to consult. I’ve seen a many professors learn from junior students. One of the most elusive diagnoses I’ve seen made, was by a fourth year student. The professor leading the team was humble enough to pursue that possibility. Because it’s all about what’s best for the patient and not polishing our personal egos.
- A good doctor must be knowledgeable, scholarly and in touch with current trends in medical practice. He or she must demonstrate respect for the body of science, must use evidence as a tool to optimize patient care but not merely to justify a certain course of action.
- A good doctor must also be a critical thinker, always questioning every decision he/she makes. He/she makes decisions that add value to the task at hand. Costly investigations that confirm only what history and physical examination have discovered have no place and neither have investigations that would not change patient management.
- A good doctor is gentle yet firm. He educates, counsels and informs the patient’s decision making. He recognizes that the ultimate responsibility for health decisions is the patient’s.
That’s the summary of who I want my doctor to be. What’s yours?