Why More Doctors Should Embrace the Words “I Don’t Know”



By Dr. Sandra Gelbard in Lennyletter.com.


As a doctor, it is unnerving to confront an ailment that you don’t immediately know how to conquer. All those years of training, all those hours of study — and yet at some point, every doctor is confronted by one terrifying prospect: you will never know everything. When that happens, you have two options. Tell the patient the truth, however uncomfortable that might make you feel, or try to come up with an answer that “possibly” captures the diagnosis.

The latter is tempting. Not being able to give a clear answer can feel as though you’re failing to fulfil your responsibility as a trained professional. The patient is looking to you for answers, and that pressure is daunting. Reflexively, you want to reassure them by showing there are no gaps in your knowledge. Of course, that’s impossible — with all the changes in our environment, lifestyle, and food, there are new diseases developing all the time.

From eleven years of operating my own practice, I can tell you that there are times when every physician has the right to be dumbfounded. Despite all the advances in the field, there are still many shadowy corners of medicine that are a mystery. And that’s OK. In fact, I’ve discovered that one of the most important things a doctor can say is “I don’t know.”

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