By Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News
In his recent book, “The Finest Traditions of My Calling,” Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, 41, makes the case that doctors and patients alike are being shortchanged by current medical practices that emphasize population-based standards of care rather than individual patient needs and experiences.
Nussbaum, a psychiatrist, is the chief education officer at Denver Health Medical Center and practices on the adult inpatient psychiatric unit there. I recently spoke with him and this is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q. Your book is in some ways a lament for times gone by, when physicians were “artisans” who had more time for their patients and professional independence. But you’re a young doctor and you must have known at the outset that wasn’t the way medicine worked anymore. Why do you stick with it?
A. The first thing I’d say was that I didn’t know right away that medicine is no longer universally understood as a calling instead of a job. We are describing health as if it is just another consumer good, and physicians and other health practitioners as the providers of those goods. That is the language of a job. When you remember that being with the ill is a calling, then you remember that it is a tremendous privilege to be a physician. People trust you with their secrets, their fears and their hopes. They allow you to ask about their lives and to assess their bodies. So my lament is not for the loss of physician privilege — goodbye to that — but to the understanding of medicine as a calling. Continue reading