Medical students are a special concern to me so when I recently read Barron Lerner’s essay in The New York Times, I hoped to get a clue about what happens to medical students in the course of their education. Dr. Lerner, a physician and historian, described what he believes to be a vanishing form of teaching known as “pimping.” This peculiarly named practice is one where students are peppered with questions about diseases, patients, identification of vital organs, etc. while on patient rounds or attending surgeries. As Dr. Lerner pointed out, these practices, depending on the personality of the attending senior physician, can in fact be educational but can also be humiliating, embarrassing and undermining.
I first encounter future medical students when I interview them for admission. At that time, while admittedly trying to make a good impression, they are nonetheless brimming with enthusiasm, idealistic and eager to learn how they can best help the ill and infirm and in the process “make a difference.” They have all spent an inordinate amount of time volunteering both in medical settings and in their communities. Their energy seems boundless. Yet by the time they are in their fourth year of medical school, I find that too many of the students have become cynical, uninterested in the human side of medicine and reluctant to sit still for something as unimportant as bioethics. What has happened to them? Is this what we do to our best and brightest? What is it in the medical school environment that graduates doctors who have lost or turned off human instincts? If we are to fix our health care system we need to remember to nurture the softer, more compassionate traits of our practitioners.[Thanks, Alice!]