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Faking it: The emotional labour of medicine

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/sbmj.0409329 (Published 01 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0409329
  1. Raj Persaud, Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist Maudsley Hospital1
  1. 1London and author of Staying sane: how to make your mind work for you

It's tough smiling at your patients when that is the opposite of how you feel inside but medicine has a lot to do with acting as Raj Persaud explains

Doctors and medical students typically conduct two basic interactions in their daily jobs they contend with ‘things’ like technology (such as MRI Scanners), and they interact with people. There is accumulating evidence that much of the stress of medical work comes from interactions with people rather than things.1

People versus things

Post-industrial societies have workforces which are moving from manufacturing to service oriented work. This basically means that we increasingly have jobs where we deal with people rather than things (such as components on an assembly line).

Having to constantly deal with people rather than ‘things’, often brings unique stresses, which the modern workplace or workforce doesn't seem prepared for. For example, much of medical training appears to be focused on how to deal with ‘things’ like a liver or a liver function test result, rather than how to cope with people, such as patients and colleagues.

This lack of training on how to deal with people could mean doctors are ill equipped when it comes to this vital part of their jobs. This explains much of their subsequent stress (especially as doctors are often dealing with people who are going through one of the most difficult times).

Have a nice day syndrome

Some recent research has established that a large part of the stress of working in call centres is the strain of having to be constantly cheerful to callers.2 The so …

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