Theresa Brown, BSN, RN, OCN, PhD, is a staff nurse, the author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between, an Opinion Columnist for the New York Times “Bedside,” and a member of the National Advisory Council for the Center for Health Media and Policy.
Danielle Ofri’s new book What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine deserves an award for pulling back the curtain on one of the most taboo topics in health care: difficult feelings. The book is honest and brave, as well as eloquent and compelling. Ofri, a physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, is a talented writer and quite a smart observer of human emotional responses, including her own.
I came to the book as a staff nurse and many of the experiences discussed, as well as the emotional responses they evoked, strongly resonated with me. That’s why I’ve titled this blog post “What Nurses and Doctors Feel,” because even though Ofri’s book focuses on MD’s, nurses can learn a lot from it about our own on-the-job feelings.
What Doctors Feel begins by exploring how hard it is for Ofri as a new physician to see the humanity in a homeless patient who is dirty, bug infested, and smells terrible. Her feeling of revulsion over the patients’ hygiene makes her unable to care for the patient. Then a nurse’s aide respectfully and gently offers to get the patient cleaned up, locating the human being underneath the patient’s dirty outer layer. Watching the exchange teaches Ofri an important lesson about the barriers to, and importance of, empathy.