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Ann Fam Med. 2009 Mar-Apr;7(2):170-5. doi: 10.1370/afm.943.

Suffering, meaning, and healing: challenges of contemporary medicine.

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Tacoma Family Medicine, 521 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Tacoma, WA 98405-4238, USA.


This essay explores the thesis that changes in contemporary society have transformed the work of doctoring and challenge doctors to be physician-healers. Medical advances in the prevention and management of acute disease have wrought a growing population of chronically ill patients whose care obliges physicians to become holistic healers. Holistic healing involves the transcendence of suffering. Suffering arises from perceptions of a threat to the integrity of person-hood, relates to the meaning patients ascribe to their illness experience, and is conveyed as an intensely personal narrative. Physician-healers use the power of the doctor-patient relationship to help patients discover or create new illness narratives with fresh meanings that reconnect them to the world and to others and thereby transcend suffering and experience healing. Physician-healers equipped with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to assist patients to transcend suffering are indispensable if contemporary medicine is to maintain its tradition as a healing profession. In the process, physicians may discover meaningful connections with patients that bring new and refreshing perspectives to their work.

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