MSNBC.com—April 21, 2008
Commentary by Dr. Edward V. Craig
Special to msnbc.com
As a young medical student 30 years ago, there was much I had to learn about the diagnosis of illness, the treatment of disease and how to distinguish the science of medicine from the art of practicing it.
I will never forget a conversation I had with one attending physician, supervising me as I fumbled my way through my first medical history and physical examination. "Never forget," he began, "human beings are at their most vulnerable when they go to the doctor."
He urged me to think about what happens when patients seek medical help: They disrobe in front of a perfect stranger, attempt to give the doctor clues as to what ails them, all the while being scared to death they will be told something that will forever change their life. When the patient is under anesthesia, this vulnerability is taken to an even higher level, as all control is ceded to the surgical and anesthesia team. He reiterated that there is no other profession in the world like this. That which is told you in private is the most serious of trusts. "You betray it at your own peril — and your patient's," he warned that day.
His words rushed back to me recently as I read on the Internet of two headline-grabbing instances where doctors appeared to have deeply violated patient trust.
Dr. Edward V. Craig is Attending Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and Professor of Clinical Orthopedic Surgery at Cornell Medical School.
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