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Gratitude and Medicine

Earlier this fall, I read an especially touching and insightful piece by Michael Collins, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Written to coincide with the start of classes, it describes the enormous privilege that doctors have in caring for patients, who literally place their lives in another's hands.

Collins' words ring even truer as we enter the Thanksgiving and holiday season. Amidst all the things we have to be grateful for this year, one thing that doctors and health care professionals share is the unparalleled, ineffable experience of touching our patients' lives from birth to death, including all the milestones in between. Collins puts it best as he imagines what the future holds for our young physicians in training:

What will it be like to put their fingers through those of a tiny, premature baby, whose parents tremble at the sight of the love of their lives? To take the hand of a young soccer player whose broken arm needs a cast, and to reassure her she will play again? To grasp the hands of parents while they hold the hand of their college student who clings to life on an emergency room stretcher? To hold the hand of their first patient with breast cancer, or melanoma or a brain tumor, when they realize they don't have enough hands to hold those of the spouses and the children who need comfort, too? To hold the hand of a grandfather with senile dementia, once a titan struck down by a debilitating disease?

Today's medical students will discover what it's like to have such enormous responsibilities and to be present at such critical junctures in a person's life. And they'll see how these instances of joy and pain are not just transformative for the patient. They also deeply alter us as caretakers and as individuals, completely changing how we view life, love, and relationships. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

Posted November 19, 2014 2:15 PM | Permalink to this post

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