Humanism in Perspective: Feedback

A few months ago, Atul Gawande wrote about the need for surgeons to be coached and receive feedback, much in the same way a professional sports player is groomed. Here, Dr. Dorian Wilson from the Center for Humanism at NJMS reflects on a similar theme.

I call it DA: Developmental Arrest. Physicians have a subtle malady to which they are prone. In my mind, the proclivity toward this malady goes something like this:

I train long and hard to be competent and skilled to perform a very specific and sophisticated set of duties and interventions, namely the practice of medicine. That skill set comes with a significant associated level of prestige and demand for respect, to say nothing of the fact that I am, because of my position in life, generally revered and in some cases idolized, perhaps even honored and adored. Well, I don’t know exactly when the transition occurs, but somewhere along the line, people (particularly those whom I don’t know well) and even those who are closest to me, stop providing me with honest criticism and feedback, especially in the area of interpersonal relationships and judgment in circumstances where others can be greatly harmed by my insensitivity or lack of tact. It’s as if in some unspoken way, I become exempt from censorship. Maybe, in fact, I project that air of being exempt. Or maybe, others feel more apt to give me the benefit of the doubt when I’m being a jerk. Perhaps my role often places me in a position of authority and some individuals are naturally inclined to bend to authority or to yield.

Anyway, a very important part of what I need to be the best that I can be is lost to me. Ironically, I am the very one, by virtue of the peculiar privilege that I have – delving into the very intimate and private recesses of others’ lives and “violating them in the name of a hope for a cure” – that needs to be given every consideration to improve by way of genuine feedback from others at all levels thus diminishing the threat of this dreadful malady!

Respectfully submitted,

Dorian J. Wilson, M. D.
Healthcare Foundation Center for Humanism and Medicine
UMDNJ – New Jersey Medical School

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