By Joshua Alvarez
One of the most common criticisms of modern medicine is the dehumanizing effect of the so-called ‘medical gaze’, or ,within a doctor’s mind, the separation of a patient’s body and symptoms from their identity. This allows doctors to systematically describe and cure a patient’s ailments; however, it can cause doctors to ignore facts about a patient’s case if it does not fit into the mold already described by medical science.
This is one of the issues the Sewanee Hippocrates Fellows discuss at their weekly meetings. The Hippocrates Fellowship is a Pre-Health program offered at Sewanee, designed to promote leadership and personal development for students pursuing a medical track. “A large focus of the program has been on emotional intelligence,” said Gil Horner (C’20), a participant in the Fellows program.
Broadly speaking, emotional intelligence is one’s ability to recognize his or her own emotions and those of others. The Fellows’ focus on this concept ranges from group discussions to personality tests, all designed to help the Fellows become more effective leaders in the medical community. This concentration on emotional intelligence and other leadership skills has wide-ranging implications for the future practice of medicine.
While discussing negative effects of the medical gaze and treating patients as problems instead of people, Horner said, “If a doctor is looking at things so linearly, it can become difficult to find solutions for unorthodox problems”. This is one of the problems training in emotional awareness should help to tackle. By understanding the patient on a deeper level than as simply a body with symptoms, the doctor can provide a better level of care.
These ideas come from the founder of western medicine himself, Hippocrates, who believed that to be truly healthy, a human being must be treated as a whole instead of as a system of parts. While they date back to ancient Greece, these ideas are making a resurgence in modern medicine. Horner says that he is considering an osteopathic medical degree, which espouses preventative care and working with the patient to improve their health.
Even if he decides to pursue a more traditional degree, Horner plans to carry his experiences as a Hippocrates Fellow into his internship provided by the Fellows program this summer; he will work in a local nonprofit clinic, such as the Partners For Healing clinic in Tullahoma or the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in Winchester. Horner believes that the skills and leadership experience he is gaining as a Fellow will also be useful for his intended career path, as he hopes to work in public health, preferably through a nonprofit.
Reflecting on his experience as a Hippocrates Fellow so far, Horner says, “I have particularly enjoyed the focus on soft skills that are non-specific to medicine, such as emotional intelligence, goal setting, and stress management. We explore a broad range of ideas that I am sure poise us for worldly success in our respective medical interests.”