Lisa Pryor, a medical doctor, is the author, most recently, of “A Small Book About Drugs.” Lisa Pryor JAN. 5, 2018
One traditional view of the medical profession is that doctors are commanding and authoritarian, even arrogant. Though some individuals fit that description, in fact, the profession is built on doubt.
Most doctors, especially the good ones, are acutely aware of the limits of their knowledge. I have learned from those much more experienced and qualified than me that humility is something to be cultivated over time, not lost.
Our field is built around trying to prove ourselves wrong. In hospitals we hold morbidity and mortality meetings trying to show where we have failed, what we need to change, how we can do better. Our hospital work is audited to identify where we fell short of our ideals. Through scientific research we try to disprove the effectiveness of treatments. Our failings are exposed from the inside.
The nature of evidence-based health care is that practices change as new evidence emerges … This can be immensely frustrating for patients, even though it is what we must do to provide the best possible treatment.
It is a cognitive bias known in psychology as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In short, the less you know, the less able you are to recognize how little you know, so the less likely you are to recognize your errors and shortcomings. For the highly skilled, like trained scientists, the opposite is true: The more you know, the more likely you are to see how little you know.
In the face of this circus, we doctors must hold tight to evidence. We must hold tight to our doubt, our knowledge of our fallibility as individuals and as a profession, knowing that humility is a strength, not a weakness.
But we must also as a profession engage in the public conversations about health, including on social media, along with our colleagues in allied health fields. If we do not, the discussion will be dominated by the passionately uninformed, who build trust only to sell false cures. And we must listen to patients, as we are taught to do, showing care and understanding. We must take on the difficult challenge of inspiring and motivating with the truth.