Getting a taste of their own medicineBMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39462.488646.34 (Published 31 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:279
- Daniel Sokol, lecturer in medical ethics and law, St George’s, University of London
“One of the hard things to learn in medicine,” wrote the great American doctor Lewis Thomas, “is what it feels like to be a patient.” In the days before the therapeutic revolution of the 1930s, when sulfa drugs gave doctors unprecedented powers over once lethal diseases, most doctors knew about serious illness at first hand. Pneumonia, typhoid, tuberculosis, and poliomyelitis were familiar foes. Today, the experiential divide between doctor and patient has widened. Patienthood is a foreign country.
Robert Klitzman, a psychiatrist practising in New York, lost his sister in the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center. After organising her memorial service and packing her belongings, he became depressed: “For the first time, I fully appreciated what my patients had to undergo, and how hard it is to put the experience of depression into words.” In When Doctors become Patients, Klitzman interviewed 70 doctors who crossed the gulf into patienthood. And so we meet Roxanne, a …