Mitchell Sydloski: David O. Hough, MD Endowed Memorial Award Essay

by Mitchell Sydloski 


In our medical system which is increasingly based on technology it is easy for the idea of “The spirit of the healer” to be lost. With laboratory values, imaging, and other diagnostics tests to consider clinicians can become buried in the vast quantities of medical information presented to them. With their demanding schedules and high patient volumes it is sometimes easier to focus on a patient’s potassium level than it is to focus directly on the patient. However, “The spirit of the healer” is what truly allows the physician to bridge the gap between medical information and the thoughts and feelings of their patients. A healer is a clinician who is as in tune with his patient’s emotional well being as with the diagnosis and treatment of their medical conditions. The clinician practices the science of medicine but the healer practices the art.

A person who is recently diagnosed with a serious medical condition is in a scared and vulnerable state. They have many questions about what life will bring. Will I be in pain? How long will I live? What should I tell my family? Patients care less about their most recent WBC count, than they do about what the illness will do to them as a person. The true medical healer is a physician who can encourage and support their patients through these difficult times. Sometimes a supporting touch or a moment of silence means more to the patient than the statistics of their newly diagnosed disease. The healer understands and through their spirit is empathetic to a patient’s thoughts, feelings, and fears. They are not afraid to sit with their patients in times of sadness and sorrow, but willingly encourage them to discuss their emotional well being. Above all, the healer treats the patient, not the disease.

“The spirit of the healer” is not limited to these dire situations, but is seen in everyday medical practice. It can be seen while the healer stays late to discuss lab results with a patient, when they would rather be home. It can be seen when the healer adds an extra Saturday appointment to reassure a worried parent. Most of all “The spirit of the healer” is the idea that no matter what happens the physician will always put the needs of their patient first. Although, at times this may be difficult, this selflessness is the true essence of what it means to be a healer. Although difficult, it is their spirit and drive that allows the healer to support their patients whenever the need arises. A patient’s wellness is not only derived from improved lab values and negative imaging, but by the physician instilling the belief that they will improve and feel better.

“The spirit of the healer” represents a physician who can seamlessly blend both the art and science of medicine into one. They successfully deliver the most up to date care, with their focus on building a nurturing and supportive relationship. When the healer accomplishes this a new level of patient care and physician-patient relationship is met. The healer is someone who truly puts their patients first and strives everyday to a make a difference in the lives of their patients. With increasing challenges and demands to medical practice, the enduring spirit of the healer allows for the focus to be on the patient and not the disease.