The Doctor Patient Relationship: Love Thy Patient (part one)

by Farhana Rahman


This two-part article is about the doctor-patient relationship, love and Britishness. Check out part two after this


Being British

Sometimes it feels like Britishness imprints itself in your DNA.  Isn’t that a funny thought? I’m not talking about physical attributes like eye or skin colour, although 10,000 year old ancient Briton ‘Cheddar Man’ with his dark skin and blue eyes sounds pretty dreamy to me.

No, I’m talking about the irrefutable, undeniable behaviour traits that we Brits carry around with us day to day.

You know what I mean.  Examples include but are not limited to:

1.      Apologising to inanimate objects you accidentally walk into.

2.     The internal, biological compass that lies deep within us which helps us form an orderly queue or line wherever there is a group of more than one person.  Oh how my compass hurts when I’m abroad and PEOPLE DON’T OBEY THE LAWS OF NATURE.

3.     Using all of the words when asking for something:

British: Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you but would it be possible to get a glass of water please?

American:  Excuse me, can I get some water please?

I’m always reminded of my Britishness when travelling abroad.  In fact, it becomes amplified.  When in the U.S, I become a brown, female Hugh Grant bumbling incoherently all over the place.  


Changing the Doctor Patient Relationship

And so, at the Harvard Lifestyle Medicine conference this weekend I found myself blushing with embarrassment * when faced with just how un-British our American cousins are.  Why you may ask?

*this is technically untrue.  Blushing does not happen when you’re blessed with this much melanin.

I was listening to the legendary Dr Ornish, previously physician to Bill Clinton and advisor to Barack Obama, deliver a mind-blowing presentation on the transformative power of lifestyle medicine.  He talked about the relationship between patients and doctors and used a word I’d never heard within this context in all my 16 years in medicine:



Love and the Doctor Patient Relationship

In a land of superlatives and ‘have a great day!’ here I was being told by an accomplished, well-regarded physician with countless publications in the world’s most highly regarded medical journals, about patient-doctor relationships and the need for love.

Ahem.  Now that’s not the kind of language we’d use, thank you very much.  I’m not about to tell 67 year old Rory Barker that I love him when he comes to get his blood pressure medication, which would be as much to his relief as well as mine.

But as Dr Ornish spoke, the truth dawned on me.  He wasn’t saying that doctors and patients should just be groovy and hug trees all day.  He was saying that fear is not an effective motivator when it comes to meaningful change. 

There's a great quote by Marianne Williamson which goes, 'in a choice between love and fear, choose love.' I had heard it before and thought it applied to the other things in my life, not how we can help patients heal. It was mind blowing.

Check out part two for the rest of this article