Serving science with compassion is a doctor’s duty – Dr Punam Krishan

Simply talking to a patient, even one with a terminal disease, can make them feel better (Picture: PA)
Simply talking to a patient, even one with a terminal disease, can make them feel better (Picture: PA)
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Cum Scientia Caritas – the motto of the Royal College of General Practitioners – profoundly resonates with me, not just at work but with the way that I choose to live my life, writes Dr Punam Krishan.

It translates as “science with compassion”, a practice that is both an art and a skill which must not be compromised by doctors and other healthcare professionals.

For those with a natural interest and passion, science comes easily.

It is when we choose our subjects for further education that we start to question how we wish to apply this science throughout our careers.

The majority of people who choose to study medicine do so because they are good at such subjects but also because they want to have a vocation, and one which allows them to care for and connect with people who are vulnerable in some way.

As a family doctor, I am fortunate to be part of the lives of many people every day.

I chose general practice because it allowed me to care for people from the cradle to the grave.

If my job involved pure science alone, I would have quit a long time ago. The reason I have not resigned is the sense of satisfaction that I get when I connect with my patients. And that’s something that is beyond textbook knowledge.

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I recently lost a patient to an unexpected but rapidly progressive lung cancer. Having never been a smoker or had any major health concerns, life cruelly stopped him in his tracks.

A middle-aged man with a good number of years ahead was beaten down by an aggressive tumour.

Over four months, I treated – mainly listened and supported – this man and his family.

A family that quickly felt like my own. It could have been my father, my siblings ... it’s hard sometimes to objectify and detach yourself.

The science part was the medications which simply alleviated the symptoms – otherwise, our science had no solutions.

However, our consultations were the treatments that I saw made a difference. They were his private space to share his fears, his worries, his feelings that he didn’t want to burden his already grieving family.

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We would laugh, we shed tears, he would share reflections of his life and he always left saying that he felt better. All I did was listen.

I saw him weekly because it got him out the house, gave him something to look forward to.

Little did he know, I also looked forward to seeing him, he taught me – like many of my patients do – about the value of time.

When he no longer came, I cried. I cried with the family, I cried on my own.

A family was left behind and needed to be picked up. This was my role and again something that is always challenging when you manage and treat a family, you’re bound by confidentiality.

You, the GP, holds all the secrets, the worries, the fears. You cannot show judgement, you cannot disclose knowledge.

I don’t think any heart can be as deep as that of a GP over the course of their career.

The science of life is cruel at times and we, on the frontline, really find it hard when we have no control over some of it.

We do, however, have full control over our abilities to be human, to show and share compassion.

And it is compassion that is the most important element required when healing the whole person before you.

Punam Krishan is a GP and is on Twitter @drpunamkrishan