When Doctors Become Patients

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For many doctors, their role as powerful healer precludes thoughts of ever getting sick themselves. When they do, it initiates a profound shift of awareness— not only in their sense of their selves, which is invariably bound up with the "invincible doctor" role, but in the way that they view their patients and the doctor-patient relationship. While some books have been written from first-person perspectives on doctors who get sick— by Oliver Sacks among them— and TV shows like "House" touch on the topic, never has there been a "systematic, integrated look" at what the experience is like for doctors who get sick, and what it can teach us about our current health care system and more broadly, the experience of becoming ill. The psychiatrist Robert Klitzman here weaves together gripping first-person accounts of the experience of doctors who fall ill and see the other side of the coin, as a patient. The accounts reveal how dramatic this transformation can be— a spiritual journey for some, a radical change of identity for others, and for some a new way of looking at the risks and benefits of treatment options. For most however it forever changes the way they treat their own patients. These questions are important not just on a human interest level, but for what they teach us about medicine in America today. While medical technology advances, the health care system itself has become more complex and frustrating, and physician-patient trust is at an all-time low. The experiences offered here are unique resource that point the way to a more humane future.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Nicholas Greco IV, MS, BCETS, CATSM (Columbia College of Missouri)
Description: This is one of the best books written on the role reversal that occurs when physicians become ill. It opens readers' eyes to the vulnerability and human nature of physicians.
Purpose: The purpose is to illustrate the complicated lives of doctors when they become ill, their emotions, their need for balance, and their identity. The author successfully breaks down the myth of invulnerability, opens readers up to the preciousness of life, and provides firsthand accounts of 48 doctors coping with their own mortality.
Audience: Anyone in healthcare will be moved and benefit immensely from this book. The author is a compassionate and well read clinician of both psychiatry and of the human spirit.
Features: Every chapter is engaging. There is an excellent chapter on self-doctoring and choosing doctors. The interplay between the physician's staff and hospital, the VIP treatment, and the insider versus outsider role bring to light the advantages and disadvantages of being an ill physician. While the physician may know what treatment to use and who the best specialist is, he also knows the prognosis, mortality, and morbidity. The issues of power and powerlessness in the role of patient highlight the complexity of treating those in the field of healthcare. The discussions of one's identity as a doctor and the loss of identity when one cannot continue in a career provide a rich platform for discussion.
Assessment: This is recommended reading for everyone in healthcare. This is one of the best books of the year.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195327670
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/30/2007
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 705,038
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Columbia University
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Table of Contents

Introduction     3
Becoming a Patient
"Magic White Coats": Forms of Denial and Other Internal Obstacles to Becoming a Patient     25
"The Medical Self": Self-doctoring and Choosing Doctors     37
"Screw-ups": External Obstacles Faced in Becoming Patients     85
"They Treated Me as if I Were Dead": Peripheralization and Discrimination     127
"Coming Out" as Patients: Disclosures of Illness     145
Being a Doctor After Being a Patient
Double Lens: Contrasting Views and Uses of Medical Knowledge     181
"Being 'Strong'": Workaholism, Burnout, and Coping     213
"Once a Doctor, Always a Doctor?": Retirement     227
"Touched by the Light": Spiritual Beliefs and Their Obstacles     241
Interacting with Their Patients
"Us versus Them": Treating Patients Differently     257
Improving Education: Can Empathy Be Taught?     273
Conclusions: The Professional Self     297
References     311
Index     323
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