As a pre-medical student, I have volunteered at an area hospital, transporting patients and assisting in the operating room holding area. Patients have told me about the awkward interactions they’ve had with doctors in the past. Even some doctors and nurses I’ve worked with have complained that younger doctors don’t know how to properly communicate with patients.
As they put it, these doctors lack “bedside manner.”
Having bedside manner — being friendly with patients and gaining their confidence — is one of the most important skills medical practitioners need to successfully treat their patients.
But many pre-health tracks and professional school curricula across the nation, including at Temple, do not require the type of classes that encourage compassion or aim at understanding humanity. Instead, the curriculum is exclusively science-based.
Of course health care is based in science, but life-or-death situations require not only critical thinking, but also a knowledge of ethics. Temple’s pre-professional health studies program should require students to take at least one medical ethics class.
“The field of medical ethics looks at questions of right [and] wrong, good [and] evil specifically in the area of medical care,” said Miriam Solomon, the philosophy department chair. “They’ll learn about principles of medical ethics such as autonomy, justice and beneficence.”
“And then they will go through some current ethical controversies in medicine such as physician-assisted suicide, stem-cell research, justice in health care and so on,” Solomon added.
Solomon said some pre-professional health students lack a sense of ethics, which she said is necessary for delivering an optimal level of care for patients.
“All they are doing is taking basic science courses and working very hard to get A’s in them,” Solomon added. “They are not fully developing as human beings.”
This science-based approach to studying medicine ultimately leads to doctors and health professionals who may dehumanize patients and their families once they are employed in the health care field.
In my experience taking the Ethics of Medicine class this semester, I have already experienced the benefits of evaluating arguments in order to arrive at an ethical decision. I had the opportunity to discuss the ethics of physician-assisted suicide, abortion and the Affordable Care Act. I am convinced that studying ethics will make me a better medical professional in the future.
Vineet Naran, a senior philosophy major and pre-medical student, said ethics classes are rewarding.
Naran is currently taking Philosophy of Medicine, which has allowed him to apply ethical theory to medicine. Naran said he was intrigued by the application of Cartesian dualism to medicine, which defines the mind and body as being distinct states of existence.
“That kind of resonated with me,” Naran said. “I think that mind-body connection kind of stuck with and applied to how I look at medicine and forced me to view medicine differently than maybe someone who has a science background.”
Seeing medicine from an ethical perspective can personalize medicine and improve experiences for patients. But this cannot be achieved if future doctors and nurses aren’t taking ethics classes.
“I think [Temple’s pre-professional health curriculum] is in alignment, perfect alignment, with medical school curriculum across the board,” said Caleb Marsh, a senior health professions adviser. “I worked at four institutions, and all four universities had very similar [curricula].”
But that does not mean the university couldn’t institute its own requirements for pre-professional health students. Temple should add an ethics requirement to its pre-medical curriculum so students can be experts in both science and human relations.
“It forces you to think in a different way,” Naran said. “Instead of focusing on pure science, you have a class that stresses another part. It gives you another tool in your tool kit in a way.”
An ethics background will allow future health professionals to treat patients, not just their diseases. And because many health care programs don’t incorporate ethics courses, Temple students would be at an advantage if such a requirement were put into place.
Ultimately, a holistic and personalized approach to medicine is necessary to tackle health problems and to treat patients. And a sense of ethics is essential to taking this approach.
Amer Haffar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.