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A simple conclusion: Medicine is a truly noble profession

columns Updated: Mar 28, 2015 23:29 IST

I’m aware that it’s only when you, or someone you love, is unwell that you realise the importance of doctors and nurses. But that’s not quite my subject today. Instead, I want to draw your attention to a quality that reveals itself after doctors and nurses become critical: the goodness we take for granted. It’s what we all rely on but often do not see or, at least, fully appreciate.

For the last three weeks Mummy, who’s now 98, has been at the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital (R and R). Her stay has given me a unique and invaluable vantage point to observe and admire the way the hospital’s doctors and nurses tend to the truly sick. Today I want to write about it not simply in gratitude but also to place on record qualities we often do not notice but which lie at the heart of the medical profession.

The first thing you will notice about nurses and doctors is a re-assuring, comforting calmness. They seem to radiate stillness and stability. Their presence provides solace. Their behaviour offers hope. It’s the perfect anti-dote to the concern or even panic in your heart.

Then there is their bedside manner. I’ve watched this closely. In tone and voice it’s gentle and soothing but, at the same time, it’s also tactile and physically comforting. Consequently it embraces the patient with attention and concern. And, yes, it clearly suggests the sick person matters and the doctor genuinely cares.

Finally, there’s the matter-of-fact manner they handle embarrassing or distressing developments. Incontinence or emotional breakdowns don’t affect them. Their equanimity and undisturbed sang froid makes the unfortunate and awkward seem pedestrian and humdrum. It’s the absolute opposite of making a drama out of a crisis.

I’m sure doctors and nurses are similar in every hospital in every country though I believe the ones at the R and R are truly special. My aim today is not to differentiate and discriminate between them. Instead, my intention is to ask a question I do not know the answer to but which has long puzzled me: What is it about doctors and nurses, as individuals or as a profession, that brings forth this goodness?

Quite frankly, you don’t see it in lawyers and journalists, in industrialists or accountants, in sportsmen or artists. But you do often see it in teachers and aid-workers and, yes, on occasion, in trade-unionists and even politicians.

As I said, I don’t have the answer but the follow-up questions that occur to me could point towards one. Perhaps because these are caring professions they attract people with these qualities? Or perhaps the nature of the duties doctors and nurses perform first creates and thereafter nurtures this goodness? Who knows, it’s probably a chicken and egg syndrome.

However, the question intrigues me because we see, rely on and draw comfort from this goodness all the time my sisters and I are with Mummy. I suppose it’s a question that matters to those whose loved ones are ill and, I guess, it’s forgotten once they recover.

Finally, I’m not sure what these people are like off-duty in their private lives and, quite frankly, I don’t care. It’s the doctor or nurse on duty that patients and their families meet. Therefore, it’s their public persona I’m writing about. That is the side of them I’ve seen, studied and admired and it’s led me to a simple conclusion: medicine is a truly noble profession.

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)