Cutting the doctors “slack”

An ICAN list member posted a New York Times article, “Miracle Workers” by David Rieff.  A lot of it made sense, and I sympathized with the author’s observance of his mother’s journey towards untimely death.  However, I must point out something that at first struck me as odd (well, actually my first response was “tough $h!t”) and then began to eat at me a bit:

Ultimately, it is no doubt simply irrational to expect physicians to simultaneously be great clinicians, great scientists and great psychologists and humanists (as well as great accountants). Some are; but a medical system built on the assumption that such mastery can be normative would be an exercise in folly.

I am an University educator.  The terms of my contract expect achievement in three areas: teaching, research, and service.  In order to advance in my academic career, I must prove excellence in at least two of these areas every time I request an advance.  Teaching can be equated to clinical work – as a teacher I work from my acquired knowledge base, extensive education in the field, and experience as a practitioner.  Research and/or creative actitivity is often the most important facet of an academic’s portfolio, for better or worse.  Service to the field is also expected, and certainly psychology and humanism plays into all three aspects.  The demands are there – they extend to me as a “pedigreed” practitioner; they certainly apply to the “pedigreed” practitioners of medicine.  Rieff did not need to cut them this kind of “slack”.


According to the Meridiam-Webster Dictionary Online, a zealous person is defined as being a fanatical partisan.  I am not completely satisfied with that definition, so I looked up the term “zealot” in the Oxford English Dictionary:  “one who pursues his object with passionate ardour; usually in disparaging sense, one who is carried away by excess of zeal; an immoderate partisan, a fanatical enthusiast. ”  Some may be proud to identify with that sort of definition, but I am not one of them.

“Passionate ardour” . . . good . . . check.  “Disparaging” . . . not good . . . hazard.  “Carried away” . . . not good . . . counter-productive when outside the zealous nest.  “Immoderate partisan” . . . not good . . . hasn’t worked well in our own political system . . . “Fanatical” . . . not good . . . extremists are viewed suspiciously.

So how do we pursue our object with passionate ardor and not become engulfed by the potentially negative current of the zeal mire?  Why is zealotry counter-productive?  Why should I not behave like a radical?  Well, you’ve heard the term “preaching to the choir” right?  Now, I love the choir (I am a professional opera singer by trade).  A good choir is melodious, has rhythmic integrity, is musical, has a wide range of skills, can sing high soft loud low, and so on and so forth.  But when the choir does nothing but yell at the top of its lungs with little attention to melody, rhythm, tone quality, skill, and precision, then people stop listening.

I don’t ever want to be confused with being a zealot with regard to maternal-child awareness, advocacy, education, and support.  I don’t know all of the facts.  I don’t have all of the answers.  Doling out advice only works so well.  And I am a learner – a life-long learner.  So I will always be learning, researching, analyzing, scrutinizing, and examining.

I promise you that.