Archives: Beacon Press


I rarely write book reviews for this blog. Recently, I fell upon a book that compelled me to write one.

Health and medicine play integral, immeasurably important roles in our lives.  And yet, we ask very few questions of our doctors. When we see our physicians, most of us try to get in and out the door as soon as possible, wipe our hands and be done with it. We conceptualize a doctor’s exam as having to do with a physical problem we want to eliminate, not an emotional experience. And very possibly, our doctors are treating us the same way. Just another problem to be solved.

But illness can have significant, even devastating, emotional consequences on patients: anger at the injustice of a disease; shame while lying naked and poked at on a table; sadness at the loss of a limb or a breast; fear at the prospect of a painful procedure.

What about the emotional impact on doctors? Has society allowed for doctors to feel? Or to fail?

The worldview that doctors are superhumans, immune to emotions and mistakes, is exactly what Dr. Danielle Ofri challenges and successfully upends in her valuable new book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine (Beacon Press; June 4, 2013). As Ofri demonstrates, drawing upon her own personal experiences and the stories of others, treatment isn’t simply a physical equation. We have read amply, and many of us know personally, about the emotional distress that endures long after a surgery or diagnosis. What we know minimally, if we consider it at all, is the emotional distress that doctors feel on the other end: how fear or grief manifests over time in the lives of doctors; how even bearing witness to a grave illness or mistake can change the way a doctor diagnoses, treats, or cares for us.

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