In healthcare, medicine cures but compassion heals.
“Teach a child what to think and you make him a slave to knowledge. Teach a child how to think and you make knowledge his slave.” – Unknown
By Dr Kenneth Chin
Class of 2016
Diagnostic Radiology Residency Programme, SingHealth Residency
In healthcare, medicine cures but compassion heals. As a healthcare professional, delivering evidence-based care is what I was taught to do, but giving patients more than just a cure is just as vital to their well-being. We need to convey compassion through communication, building trust, and the strengthening of the relationship between patient and doctor.
This was revealed to me in my encounters with patients as a student in Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS). I remember a patient who was diagnosed with early-stage gastric cancer. Upon her admission to the Singapore General Hospital, a team from the department of General Surgery counselled her on treatment options. She refused surgery despite it giving her higher chances of survival, citing that she was alone and had no family left; she was unmarried, did not have children and her siblings have unfortunately passed on.
In spite of declining treatment, the team responded readily by providing alternative treatment options, making referrals for her treatment and arranging social welfare support to ensure comfort beyond the hospital. I had noticed that the team was patient and comprehensive in answering her queries, making sure to address all her concerns. Despite her illness, the patient was very appreciative and happy with her experience with us upon discharge.
I was amazed because in spite of a poor prognosis, the patient found peace of heart and mind purely through genuine care, communication and collaborative solutions from her attending healthcare team.
"It is clear to me that good mentorship is crucial to imbue the value of empathy, especially in the formative years of medical education."
What I observed shows that empathy is a conduit which allows us to deliver best practices to the patient. Without it, we are simply reduced to service providers. Sometimes, having an answer or a cure brings a discussion to an end, but collaboratively searching for solutions for our patients creates a drive to improve service and a learning opportunity for both doctor and patient.
The word “doctor” is derived from the latin word "docere", which translates as "to teach". I firmly believe that the duty of a doctor is first and foremost to his patient, and secondly to preserve and advance the art of medicine through education. Today, I have a vested interest in medical education and quality mentorship as I see these as force multipliers in healthcare, enabling more healthcare professionals to impact more patients.
It is clear to me that good mentorship is crucial to imbue the value of empathy, especially in the formative years of medical education. During my studies in Duke-NUS, I had the privilege of meeting incredibly dedicated teachers who would volunteer their precious time outside of what’s required by the curriculum for the students. In the weeks leading up to our final exams, many senior doctors took us on bedside tutorials, one even coming back on a weekend to teach us for six hours to ensure that we were adequately trained. They truly care.
Beyond their dedication, I saw that it is our educators’ conduct in everyday ward rounds which live out the philosophy of medicine: To cure sometimes, to heal often and to comfort always. Their actions inspire us to follow in their tracks.
Dr Kenneth Chin graduated from Duke-NUS in June 2016 as part of its 6th batch of graduates.