Doctors must have a caring touch

I RECENTLY came across a widely circulated short video in social media about the work of a very famous paediatric heart surgeon, Dr Devi Prasad Shetty from Bangalore, India.

Dr Shetty is probably best known for his success in introducing inexpensive cardiac surgeries by creatively and efficiently driving down costs, thus putting life-saving operations within the means of thousands of poor Indians.

The short (two minutes and 50 seconds only) video (it’s also found on YouTube when you search for Dr Devi Shetty – the power of touch) talks about how he was inspired as a young heart surgeon by Mother Teresa to transform lives in India.

In the video clip, he shares how he learnt the power of simplicity, compassion and love from Mother Teresa after meeting her 30 years ago. He also emphasises the fact that Mother Teresa, being a nun, did not just pray for the sick and underprivileged of Kolkata. She was actually on the ground, helping and touching the sick and the poorest of the poor, and he could see the power of touch in her. 

He also talks about how modern medicine has undermined the importance of touch and compassion.

As a doctor who has been practising for the last 28 years, I found it refreshing to be reminded about the basics of being a doctor by Dr Shetty. With the way the practice of medicine has evolved over the years, its modernisation and reliance on technology and diagnostic machines, it is easy for us healthcare workers to forget sometimes that what patients really want from us is our compassion and touch.

I work in a very busy hospital and I can see how these qualities are so very important to our patients. Our core business as doctors is to treat patients and as far as possible heal and manage their illness; but as the famous old saying goes “to cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always”, all we can sometimes offer our patients is comfort and compassion.

Being in the field of foetal medicine (diagnosing and treating diseases in unborn babies), I come across a variety of conditions, some of which are very severe and sometimes incurable. Although there is much joy and fulfilment in successfully treating a sick unborn baby, it is often the patients’ whose babies don’t make it who need the most attention and comforting. This is where one has to go beyond the call of duty sometimes to provide the much needed compassionate support.

I have successfully treated many sick unborn babies in my career, but it is the ones that I couldn’t save that I remember the most. And likewise, it is also the families of these unfortunate babies who also remember you the most for how you tried your best and stood by them when their baby did not respond to treatment.

I often tell my junior doctors that to be a good doctor, it is not always about how smart they were as a student, or which medical university they graduated from, or how much they think they know, or how good their intentions are because, at the end of the day, what our patients are looking for are our empathy, genuine care, compassion and our touch.

With the increasing number of doctors in this country, it is important for these junior doctors or would-be doctors to be taught and reminded about these simple basics of being a doctor.

Like Dr Shetty, I truly believe that the hands that help are holier than lips that pray. And this mantra, I believe, is applicable not just in the field of medicine but in every of other occupation that deals with service to a fellow human.

As doctors, we must always remember this, because we doctors are mere instruments of God and God is the ultimate healer.



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