Medicine’s Search for Meaning (The New York Times)

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The New York Times“Today, almost 50 percent of doctors report symptoms of burnout—emotional exhaustion, low sense of accomplishment, detachment,” writes David Bornstein in his New York Times column. To address this problem, medical schools across the country incorporate the course “The Healer’s Art” in their curriculum, Bornstein says.

Joseph O’Donnell, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine, teaches the course at Dartmouth, Bornstein notes. First-year medical students participate in the course’s exercises alongside experienced physicians. O’Donnell tells Bornstein that when he was in medical school, topics such as grief and loss were not discussed openly. “It wasn’t safe to say, ‘I’m really bothered by what I’m seeing today.’ You just took care of it,” says O’Donnell. “You read the scientific articles, but you put your heart and soul aside. Here you are allowed to bring those things to the forefront in a valid way with colleagues who are esteemed.”

O’Donnell has found the course to be rewarding not only for his students, but for himself as well. “I hear themes I might have missed before,” O’Donnell tells Bornstein. “Not just the symptoms, but the story—how scared the patient is that this ache might mean a recurrence. It brings you back to taking care of people. Because the world isn’t made up of atoms. It’s made up of stories.”

Read the full opinion piece, published 9/18/13 by The New York Times.