Investing in Each Other—Balint Groups and the Patient-Doctor Relationship
Have you ever felt dread or fear at the thought of opening the door to see a patient? Has an overwhelming feeling of despair or frustration suddenly come upon you after seeing certain names or your appointment list for the day? Do you ever feel too close, too connected to a patient and worry about keeping your distance? If none of this sounds familiar-then just wait, because it will. If you have experienced such feelings, does it make you an incompetent, unethical, or unprofessional physician
... ssional physician or student? I would like to open this commentary with a brief description of something extraordinary that is very rarely made available to medical students in their education. Here we go. Pete was standing outside room 10-312 doing whatever he could to delay opening the door and greeting Mr. Smith, who had been on his service for 2 weeks now with no discharge in sight and whom he dreaded seeing. Thank goodness for e-mail-one of the best ways ever invented to procrastinate. A reminder e-mail for the group meeting that afternoon appeared on the screen of his phone. Nothing else new. Feeling too guilty to launch into a quick game of solitaire, Pete finally knocked on the door and pushed it open, forcing himself to smile when he said good morning to the patient waiting inside. As he was checking e-mail for the last time before leaving the hospital, he once again saw the reminder for the group meeting. Kicking himself for not waiting until he got home to check, he made the hike over to the Department of Family Medicine and took the elevator up 14 floors. Pete was actually relieved to sit down in the circle of chairs amongst his peers and faculty. When Dr. Crossman asked for a case, all of a sudden Pete sat up, leaned forward and claimed the moment to discuss his relationship with Mr. Smith,. Pete did as he was asked, minimizing the clinical facts of the case and instead focusing on his feelings about Mr. Smith. He was surprised to find himself telling the group about his dread and his sadness and his fear. Thankful to be done, he scooted his chair back and listened for the better part of 45 minutes while his peers put themselves in both Pete's and the patient's shoes, describing how each would feel in the relationship described.