Kindness in Medicine
By Richard P. Holm, MD
This week I spent some time exploring the origins of the word, kind: It comes from Old English gecynd (YEH’-kund) or cynn (kyn), meaning nature, race, family. Another Old English word kyndnes (KIND’-nes) means “nation,” which I interpret as a subtle and ancient nod toward kin, kinship and our common bond in support of our country. Modern dictionaries define the word kindness as the quality or state of being generous, helpful, caring and giving. Synonyms include tactful, good hearted, neighborly, forgiving and gracious.
Sometimes I only understand something when I explore it’s opposite or antonym. For example, I had to think about mental illness to better understand mental health; about hate to better understand love; about depression to better understand joy. The antonyms of kindness are words like mean, cruel, malicious, spiteful, malevolent, even despicable.
Where is the intersection of kindness and medicine? In years past, admission committees for medical school have searched hard to find the very smartest college graduates and they were able to do it. Certainly, physicians need the intellect to understand the complexity of human health and continue a lifetime of learning. However, we have realized that searching for students by intellect alone might graduate medical students who don’t always develop good bedside manners and a capacity for compassion. More recently, some of the best medical schools have added kindness and compassion programs to their curriculum.
I didn’t have the benefit of such a program when I went to medical school, however, over my 40-year medical career, I’ve learned to recognize the healing power of kindness in medicine. I’ve seen it in the nursing staff caring for folks living in a small-town long-term care facility. I’ve heard it from medical providers, nurses and technicians caring for people in clinics, ERs, hospitals and in hospice programs. I’ve heard it from kind supportive friends who have offered or driven me for chemo; from jolly laughing buddies who raise my mood; from my care team as they gently hook me up for my next infusion; from our kids who call to check on me; and from my loving wife who is at my side warming me when I’m chilled, picking up my burdens with unending daily kindnesses as I struggle through these side-affects. It’s a good thing she doesn’t love me for my hair.
I am happy that our medical schools are teaching young doctors that people deal with illness so much better when it comes with a generous dose of kindness.
Richard P. Holm, MD is founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.