Accidental Kindness

Another new book, Accidental Kindness: A Doctor’s Notes on Empathy by Michael Stein — a primary care physician, researcher, and chair of the Department of Health Law, Policy, and Management at Boston University School of Public Health — is part memoir and part critique of medical training and practice. Drawing on his work, Stein examines the often conflicting goals of patients and their doctors.

No doctor enters the medical profession expecting to be unkind or to make mistakes. But because of the complexity of our medical system and because doctors are human, they often find themselves acting much less kindly than they would like to.

Meanwhile, patients don’t intend to beat themselves up. Yet, they often look to the medical system not just for relief not only from physical symptoms but also from self-blame. Doctors and patients are often in need of forgiveness, including from themselves. Patients can be given permission by their doctors to take a risks with their lives; doctors can be given permission by their patients not to feel sad and distressed after a mistake.

The book’s essays touch on poverty, racism, class inequality and leave the reader with new knowledge of and insights into what we might hope for, and what might go wrong, or right, in the most intimate clinical moments.

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