Why the Cure for the Modern Medical Institution is Empathy, Not Expertise


Major advances in human gene editing.
Scientists turning plants into ‘vaccine factories’.
Human organs stored on biochips.

Three of many astounding leaps of progress made in the field of medical science in theĀ last 24 hoursĀ alone.

Exciting, sure, but ask the professionals, and they’ll tell you that the real value in the future of medicine lies not in the technology. The tech is always changing, always adapting, but it cannot solve the number one issue in traditional medical institutions: the emphasis on expertise rather than empathy.

In his 2012 TEDx University of Minnesota speech, Doctor David Moen recounts the moment he realised that.

Moen entered the room to check on a domestic assault patient. He knew the patient; she’d been in twice already. When he asked why she hadn’t left her abuser, the woman responded pushed him against the wall.

“I’ve left him three times. I’ve lived in shelters. I’ve gotten counselling. I’ve moved me and my kids three times. I have restraining orders in two counties.

What else would you like me to do?”

Moen felt ashamed and incompetent not just as a physician, but as a human being. He’d asked a logical but ignorant question. It was a question a shelter worker or welfare officer would know better than to ask, but as a doctor – as the first and sometimes only line of support in these situations – Moen had not been trained to know better.

The experience triggered a mid-life crisis as Moen confronted his inability to engage with his patients on a meaningful level. Still, he was a successful doctor, one with the kind of knowledge and credibility to reach the upper echelon of the industry. He’d worked his whole life with that goal in mind; was it now time to abandon it for something more important?

Courageously, he decided to take a new path. And as his colleagues saw him divert, they began to follow him. Moen realised they were all feeling the same way, but it was his decision to step towards uncertainty that inspired them to do the same.

Moen’s journey is an insightful one. From the six months he spent visiting domestic violence shelters, to a trip to the emergency room that redefined his understanding of what it meant to be a doctor, and his inevitable decision to push for patient-focused healthcare as the new norm in the medical industry, his speech reminds us that no matter how technology advances over the coming decades, humanity will always be our most powerful healing tool.

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