Doctors have feelings, too

Washington, D.C. New doctors feel virtually equal levels of gratitude and anxiety as they learn to treat patients in hospital settings, says a new Georgetown University Medical Center study. Published in the July issue of Academic Medicine, this is the first qualitative study to match the full positive and negative range of emotions experienced by medical trainees with the events that trigger these feelings.

The five most prevalent emotions felt by residents and medical students in this study were gratitude, anxiety, happiness, sadness, and anger. Compassion, guilt, pride, relief, and depression rounded out the top ten. A patient's tragedy was the only experience to trigger both positive and negative emotions in the forms of compassion and sadness.

"The consistency of anxiety and guilt among all participants triggered by uncertainty, powerlessness, and perceived responsibility for untoward outcomes was really striking," said Deborah Kasman, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at Georgetown and principal investigator. "While learning can be enhanced by some degree of anxiety, there is a definite harmful tipping point when that anxiety gets in the way of delivering quality care and can contribute to burnout and illness in the doctors' themselves."

Using inpatient pediatric and internal medicine rotations as a backdrop, ten medical trainees agreed to participate in a series of observations, self-reporting into Dictaphones, and lengthy interviews conducted by researchers over the course of a week. The goal was to document and explain experiences that "moved them" or that they "took pause with," in an attempt to map out the fullest range of positive and negative feelings they had and what events caused them.

Many doctors expressed a high level of anxiety when uncertain about dealing with a patient's needs. First year resident Sam said, "I always panic initially when I get called to do something new and I don't know

Contact: Elizabeth McDonald
Georgetown University Medical Center

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