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A Piece of My Mind |

The “Good Person” Sign

Timothy M. Dempsey, MD, MPH1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Internal Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California
JAMA. 2015;314(8):773. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.4890.
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When I started medical school, I received a lot of (mostly unsolicited) advice on various topics, ranging from specialty choice to the importance of keeping work-life balance to how to befriend nurses in order to get things done. I would listen passively while friends and family blathered on about how comfortable their subspecialists’ lifestyles were. One recurring theme that I actively paid attention to was how often people advised me to avoid becoming “one of those” doctors who distanced themselves from their patients. I didn’t quite understand why some people could ever view physicians to be uncaring, cold, and callous, and why physicians allowed themselves to be perceived as such. Medicine is still the noblest of professions, and one would expect altruism as a baseline for all who go into the field. Personally, I was able to hold on tightly to my humanity and positive attitude throughout the preclinical years of medical school without issue. I even received high marks for compassion and empathy in our “doctoring” courses. At that point in my training I continued to feel as though I were above falling victim to the fate of the heartless physician. So why, I wondered in my short, unwrinkled, and as yet unblemished white coat, were some physicians so detached from their patients? Once the clinical years started, I quickly discovered the answer.


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