Brilliance or Compassion: What Would You Choose?

Brilliance or Compassion: What Would You Choose?

International Perspectives

May 03, 2018

Dr. Raj MohanBy Raj Mohan, MS, DNB, Mch

‘‘Can I have your visiting card, Doctor?” asked my patient’s relative. I knew one of the reasons he asked for my card was to look at my degrees/portfolio and to assess my “brilliance” as a surgeon. How I wished I could tell him that more degrees and an impressive CV do not mean that I do better surgeries.

Here comes the question I have always asked myself: If given an option to choose between brilliance and compassion, what would I choose? When we begin our careers, most of us are in awe of doctors with a great CV and objective achievements or awards, and we hope to emulate them at some point of time. However, many of the best surgeons I have seen during my own short career as a surgeon have been doctors with limited academic achievements, but who are excellent human beings when it comes to providing compassionate, genuine, heartfelt care to their patients.

Chasing what you think is more vital matters, because I think it can ultimately shape your approach to patient care, and hence your choice affects the lives of people who trust you to take care of them.

If you could combine both, that is ideal. But a suffering soul is asking not for a brilliant technician to attend to his needs, but a compassionate caring fellow being who understands him and the situation that his family is going through. The patient is not always asking for a talk on current level I evidence or literature on the disease, but relief from his suffering in the most humane way possible, with a trust that his treating doctor has his best interests in mind. Of course compassion without up-to-date scientific knowledge cannot yield results, but then a medical professional who is genuinely concerned about good patient care will stay abreast of the latest discoveries and the current standard of care in their field.

I strongly feel the need of the hour is to remember the old quote: “Cure may happen sometimes, suffering alleviated frequently, but remain compassionate always.” Probably nowhere else is this more applicable than in the care of patients with cancer.

Dr. Mohan is a surgical oncologist with the Indian Air Force in Bangalore, India. He is a 2017 recipient of ASCO and Conquer Cancer’s International Development and Education Award.


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Brenda Denzler

May, 12 2018 9:16 AM

I have just had to have a nodule on my neck evaluated by an oncologist.  I asked the scheduler to set me up with the person with the greatest people skills.  And indeed, I liked him a great, great deal.  As I later looked at his bona fides, I realized that he has only recently come to my hospital to work, having spent 5 years as a resident and then 2 more years as a fellow before his arrival here.  In terms of his academic achievements, he has two published papers to his credit.  Not much to brag about yet.  But I'd rather have someone who has spent the last 7 years of his life honing his skills as a surgeon than someone who has spent that time focused on accumulating academic notches in his belt.  I'm counting on his compassion/people skills and his technical skills...not his academic chops.  So I'm with you, Dr. Mohan.  Even for surgeons, medicine is about the people, not the disease and not the procedure. 

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