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A Piece of My Mind
March 8, 2016

Where Do You Put the Pain?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Pediatric Brain Tumor Program, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2016;315(10):983. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.17474

When I was a resident, I worked with a young physician who had horrible luck. She was one of those doctors reliably in attendance for the presentation of the sickest patients. So, as a very young physician, she saw many heartbreaking things and was present for the deaths of many children, in spite of her brilliance and hard work. Near the end of our training together, she asked me, “Where do you put the pain?” She went on to explain that she understood her role as a physician at the end of someone’s life, and she wanted to be present for the children and their families in these terrible times. She just didn’t know how to cope with the human aspect of the experience. Physicians are not supposed to feel as much as our patients and their families feel. At least, not in public. And, I suppose, we do not. How would we ever return to work if one patient’s death hurt us as much as if it were actually our own child? No one could do that over and over again. But we do feel the pain. It isn’t our child, but it is a human life, and it hurts like hell to watch them suffering and dying.