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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Courage and Compassion: Virtues in Caring for So-Called “Difficult” Patients

Michael Hawking, Farr A. Curlin, and John D. Yoon
AMA Journal of Ethics. April 2017, Volume 19, Number 4: 357-363.


What, if anything, can medical ethics offer to assist in the care of the “difficult” patient? We begin with a discussion of virtue theory and its application to medical ethics. We conceptualize the “difficult” patient as an example of a “moral stress test” that especially challenges the physician’s character, requiring the good physician to display the virtues of courage and compassion. We then consider two clinical vignettes to flesh out how these virtues might come into play in the care of “difficult” patients, and we conclude with a brief proposal for how medical educators might cultivate these essential character traits in physicians-in-training.

Here is an excerpt:

To give a concrete example of a virtue that will be familiar to anyone in medicine, consider the virtue of temperance. A temperate person exhibits appropriate self-control or restraint. Aristotle describes temperance as a mean between two extremes—in the case of eating, an extreme lack of temperance can lead to morbid obesity and its excess to anorexia. Intemperance is a hallmark of many of our patients, particularly among those with type 2 diabetes, alcoholism, or cigarette addiction. Clinicians know all too well the importance of temperance because they see the results for human beings who lack it—whether it be amputations and dialysis for the diabetic patient; cirrhosis, varices, and coagulopathy for the alcoholic patient; or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer for the lifelong smoker. In all of these cases, intemperance inhibits a person’s ability to flourish. These character traits do, of course, interact with social, cultural, and genetic factors in impacting an individual’s health, but a more thorough exploration of these factors is outside the scope of this paper.

The article is here.
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