Doctors are constantly tested on medical facts. Advancement in any of the specialties is totally predicated on fact recall and medical knowledge.
But there are no tests of emotionial intelligence. No evaluations of imagination, creativity, curiosity, empathy and – perhpas most glaringly ignored – a sense of humor.
I suppose it would sound weird to hear someone say, “Well, I didn’t make it as a doctor because I failed my “gets jokes” test.” But I do wonder why doctors can be total disasters of humanity but still bestowed with all the accolades of the healing professions because they can recall voluminous arcane medical facts.
We currently have a patient with a strange constellation of neurological symptoms. He can hardly walk and has bouts of numbness that at times make his limbs nearly numb. But the symptoms don’t really fit any classic neurological pattern. When I consulted with a local neurological specialist about the patient, his response was, “This case is weird. Call psych.”
He did eventually go see the patient, but with such a preconception and general lack of curiosity in the first place, the bias came across clearly to my highly intelligent patient. The resulting interaction was less-than-desirable.
Nobody should be required to be a stand-up comedian to be a doctor. Many are some version of humanitarians, which is a nice asset. But all doctors should be expected to be humanists. Like mastery of medical knowledge, this requirement – while admittedly harder to quantify and assure – should be expected and required.
The system of training doctors devalues the humanities, and continues to place greater value and emphasis on technical, or trade, training. See a wonderful commentary on this trend in the NYTimes here. But doctors shouldn’t be technicians only, they should be humanists, in the most challenging sense of the word. Otherwise, they are ill-prepared to truly help the ill.