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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Jill Gordon: Being Human in Medicine

27th October 2008, 17:30, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College

IAS/St Mary's College Public Lecture

It is widely acknowledged that impressive technological advances in medicine and health care have made it possible to cure more diseases and alleviate more physical suffering than ever before. Despite these advances, there is significant dissatisfaction and burnout within the medical profession and a degree of public dissatisfaction with medicine and with doctors.

Some of the causes of public dissatisfaction are attributed to lack of continuity and of personalized care and to perceptions that doctors lack empathy with patients. Complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) has become hugely popular and its popularity is cited as evidence of dissatisfaction with orthodox medical care.

From a broader perspective, there are criticisms concerning the inequitable distribution of medical care and the fear that many health-related problems have been “medicalised”. This process of medicalisation is driven from both sides - by doctors extending their authority over a wider range of health problems but also by commercial imperatives and by public demand for new treatments. The cost of care is rising, but health status within and between countries is not closely linked to expenditure on health.

Doctors are also unhappy. Professional ‘burnout’ is documented in a number of countries, and within a number of specialties. It varies with level of seniority, with junior doctors being particularly susceptible to stress and burnout.

We need to consider new ways of humanising practice in order to respond to inevitable changes in the delivery of health care. ‘Humanising’ doctors is one component of the change that is needed.

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