When I was learning to be a doctor, the focus was on making the sick well, but there was a huge piece missing from what they taught me in my medical education. Nobody ever taught me that, as doctors, it’s our job to help people become, not just well, but whole.
After all, our job is to help people heal – and “to heal” means “to become whole.” But what does that mean? Here’s what it means to me.
Sick Vs. Well
In medical school, I was taught that there are two kinds of people – sick people and well people. “Sick” people have abnormal laboratory and radiologic tests and are considered “diseased” or “ill.” They wind up taking medications, and if we manage to keep them from landing flat on their backs in hospitals – or even worse, dying – we breathe a sigh of relief. If we go a step further and help them make lifestyle modifications that benefit the body from the physical root, then we pat ourselves on our backs and consider our jobs well done.
“Well” people, on the other hand, have normal laboratory and radiologic studies, and are generally free of disease. Or if they have diseases, we’ve controlled them with medication, dietary changes, exercise, weight loss, or whatever is working to keep them “well.”
We aim to prevent well people from becoming sick people, and fortunately, greater awareness of preventative health has helped make that goal a reality.
Public health education about such wellness-inducing behaviors as good nutrition, regular exercise, smoking cessation, weight control, vaccination, and cancer screening tests have contributed to the wellness of the general population.
Or have they?
Then Why Are We Still So Sick?
Why is it that medical technology is advancing at a rapid-fire pace, and yet disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, and ulcers plague us? Why are we obese, hypertensive, diabetic, and hypothyroid? Why are we keeling over – often at a young age – from heart attacks, strokes, and cancers? Why are so many of us doped up on drugs for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder?
I’m talking about the ones who are under a doctor’s care, the ones who have been diagnosed with an illness or two, the ones who pop pills every morning.
Well Vs. Vital
But there are others. We may not be sick. We are mostly well. Our blood tests come back normal. Our vital signs are stable. We get the clean bill of health from our physical. And yet, something is still missing.