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Editor's Comments on Happy Birthday and Good Luck

 , December 07, 2018

As doctors and doctors-in-training, we strive to provide excellent care for our patients, to learn as much as possible to give such care, and to ensure every possible means for successful implementation of these interventions. And yet, despite best intentions, factors beyond our control can prohibit our desired ideal outcomes.  

We are not always going to be able to fix our patients, try as we might.

Gretel Whiteman’s piece “Happy birthday and good luck.” provides a raw, honest view of patient care. I commend Whiteman’s attention to (and vulnerability in) demonstrating biases, both her own and more generally of medical providers. Underscored in her direct perceptions of the family dynamic is a representation of a critical tenant in healthcare: that medical decisions are best formulated in consideration of each patient’s unique biopsychosocial setting. While society views doctors to be strictly objective, we doctors are humans, too, in our understanding of medicine and our patients. Our own life experiences and breadth of patient interactions conjure an almost natural attention professionally to the greater “picture” of patients beyond their notes, records, and lab results. As so readily seen in Ms. Whiteman’s story, we care about how our interventions will work and help our patients, not just for improvement in a medical condition, but in their overall life.

Moreover, this piece guides its readers to the outmost boundaries of patient-provider relations. Whiteman highlights our inherent limitations in the care for our patients, and she is purposeful in her intention to leave readers uncomfortable and dissatisfied. However, this lesson of recognizing what our roles are – and aren’t – is a critical, albeit slightly depressing, juncture in the journey to becoming a successful physician.

Herbert Rosenbaum