The Patient Psychiatrist

The Patient Psychiatrist

James Randolph Hillard, MD

Jul 14, 2015

I am a psychiatrist, but I have never regarded myself as a particularly patient one. In fact, I have become even less patient since I was diagnosed with stage IV gastric adenocarcinoma in 2010 and given a prognosis of less than a year to live. This blog is not meant to reflect the thoughts of a psychiatrist who is a patient person, although I do sort of aspire to be one. It is also not meant to be a blog about a psychiatrist who treats cancer patients, although I sometimes do. As you have probably figured out, this blog will be about my experiences, and possible insights, being simultaneously a psychiatrist and a patient.

While working on this pun, I started wondering where the noun “patient” came from. It turns out that, according to Wikipedia, “The word patient originally meant “one who suffers.” This English noun comes from the Latin word patiens, the present participle of the deponent verb (whatever that is), patior, meaning “I am suffering,” and akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer) and its cognate noun πάθος (= pathos).” Of course, it is also related to the adjective “patient,” meaning, according to Wiktionary, “Content to wait if necessary; not losing one's temper while waiting.” According to Ambrose Bierce, in his 1910 The Devil’s Dictionary, patience is “A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.”

“Psychiatrist,” according to is from “French psychiatrie, from Medieval Latin psychiatria, literally ‘a healing of the soul,’ from Latinized form of Greek psykhe- ‘mind’ (see psyche) + iatreia ‘healing, care.’”

So, I am “one who suffers” and one who is supposed to “heal the soul.” But, then again, in a sense, that is what all of us are.

All that reminds me of Susan Sontag’s comment in her 1978 Illness as Metaphor that “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

As physicians, we all hold dual citizenship in the kingdom of the healers and in the kingdom of the sufferers. This blog will be about what I have learned going back and forth between these kingdoms. More to follow on a regular basis.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.


Fazzy Khan

Jul, 22 2015 3:24 AM

Thanks for sharing the information this infoemation was very useful for me. And psychiarist is my favourst topic . Ilike the field of psycology i am studying this. Please keep posting these types of blogs. This will help me to get a job in best hospitals in India.</a>

James Randolph Hillard, MD

Jul, 22 2015 2:20 PM

Thank you, Fazzy, although I have become obsessed with oncology, I am still enthusiastic about psychiatry and psychology.  Very best wishes in your professional development and career.

Back to Top