By Candace Good, MD
Dr. Good is a psychiatrist in State College, affiliated with Mount Nittany Medical Center. She is a Penn State Hershey College of Medicine alumna and a current member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Board of Trustees.
I believe that human beings are more complex than the sum of our parts and that true healing requires more than prescriptions. There is power in a health care provider taking the time to listen and laying hands on a patient, an experience that cannot be replaced by a computer algorithm. I believe that something is lost when our profession is forced to run like a business and we refer to patients as clients or consumers. We get so caught up in the science of evidence-based medicine that there is little time to explore the literature, philosophy, and history of medicine.
I am proud to have attended a medical school that continues to incorporate the humanities into its curriculum. I learned ethics by reading books on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; the writings of Oliver Sacks made neurology come alive. The Art of Medicine included not only drawings in “Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy” but also slides of oil paintings from the late 1800s.
In Thomas Eakins’ “The Agnew Clinic,” a surgeon performs a mastectomy in a medical amphitheater at the University of Pennsylvania. When you ask a roomful of people how the painting differs from a picture of a modern operating room, most readily identify that the doctor would be wearing a mask and gloves. It’s the women in the room who point out that the only females in the painting are the helpless patient and the nurse awaiting orders. Women are no longer just in the periphery, and 51 percent of the students in the background of the painting would also be women.
Modern images of doctors are more like caricatures, burned out and buried in paperwork. Except we don’t even have paper charts anymore — we spend our day clicking away in electronic health records trying to master the art of being a doctor and a data entry clerk at the same time.
I chose psychiatry because it was a specialty that valued the human experience. I love psychiatry, but there are days when the art feels lost: patients in the hospital are sicker than they were 10 years ago, we have fewer days to treat them, and there are more restrictions on our prescribing. I am glad that I trained at a time when residents still learned the art of therapy and localizing brain lesions without relying on a head scan. I marvel at the complexities of the human brain as I ask a stroke patient, who can’t speak a single word, to sing, and hear him belting out “Happy Birthday” in a clear baritone.
I can’t predict the future of medicine, but I do believe that integrating traditional medicine with mindfulness practices is key. Taking time for yoga and meditation allows me to be more present for my patients. The gift of regular practice is also the awakening of prana, the creative energy with which I share this narrative. I believe in the breath. I believe in the Art of Medicine.
A version of this article appeared in the spring/summer 2018 issue of Pennsylvania Physician Magazine, PAMED’s print magazine, and was reprinted with permission.