What Doctors Feel

Summer 2014

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect The Practice of Medicine

by Danielle Ofri

An exploration of how emotion affects the work of doctors

James Easton had the worst body ulcers the doctors treating him had seen. They had to amputate both his legs. They felt that his condition was incompatible with life. What was the point? Then, out of the blue, Mrs Easton appeared, a noisy woman in her Sunday best, literally full of life. The doctors’ attitude towards their patient was transformed. There was a context. There was a point.

In this book Danielle Ofri, an American Doctor, explores the impact of emotion on how doctors work. She explores the impact of empathy (or not) and of grief (or, in many cases, the denial or suppression of grief). She also deals with fear, the fear clinicians have of doing harm to their patients. Ofri tells stories, including her own, of how extreme fear can incapacitate a doctor. She also tells stories of how managed fear can enable a doctor to do her job better.

This book is a useful reminder of the impact of feelings such as empathy, fear and loss on individuals, systems and organisations generally. The life and death nature of the health service means that these emotions are more intense than in other circumstances, but they exist in other contexts. Understanding them and their impact is crucially important in organisational improvement and development.

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