During pandemics, as the world faces a shutdown or slowdown in daily activities and individuals are encouraged to implement social distancing so as to reduce interactions between people, consequently reducing the possibility of new infections, healthcare workers usually go in the opposite direction.
However, healthcare workers have the same fears as everyone else. They are not invincible. Like the rest of the population, some are immunocompromised, have underlying conditions, are over 60 years old. They can fall, and have fallen, victim to the disease. In a previous editorial Global Alliance for Infections in Surgery has already written, in a previous editorial, that millions of health care workers—physicians, nurses, technicians, other health care professionals, and hospital support staff, around the world have faced the challenge of providing care for patients with Covid-19, while often ill-equipped and poorly prepared, risking their own lives to save the lives of others. In this months each of us has often wondered about our mission, seeing friends and colleagues who have fallen ill or died to defend the World from this little and unknown enemy. Reflecting on our mission and what it means to be a physician or an healthcare professional, we have identified four virtues to which we should all aspire.
The first virtue of a great physician is excellence. Physicians need to have medical knowledge that can be recalled at a moment’s notice. Excellence should include the accuracy of diagnostic methods, the appropriateness of approach, and the effectiveness of proven clinical decision-making principles.
A great physician enters this profession with a love for humanity. Individual doctors serve their patients by assessing, diagnosing and treating patients, and through rehabilitation and habilitation, palliation, health promotion, and disease prevention. However, medicine is more than procedures and physicians are more than purveyors of technology. Compassion is fundamental to the relationship between the patient and the doctor. Compassion is one of the most important attributes of a successful physician. Patients often experience anxiety and stress along with their pain or illness, and need to feel that their practitioner is empathetic to their issues and dedicated to creating the best outcome.
The practice of honesty is a core value of the modern physician. A great physician is honest with patients and informs them completely and honestly including the injury from medical care. Not telling the truth in the doctor-patient relationship requires special attention because patients today, more than ever, experience serious harm if they are lied to. Not only is patient autonomy undermined but patients who are not told the truth about an intervention experience a loss of that all important trust which is required for healing. Honesty matters to patients. They need it because they are ill, vulnerable, and burdened with pressing questions which require truthful answers.
A great physician never works alone. Modern healthcare is based on teamwork. Loyalty represents friendship, support, and guidance. It represents the development of solidarity among physicians as a category. It represents respect for his mentors and teachers and the carrying of their messages and teachings to future generations.