No matter how well intentioned we are, we do not always intend to say what our patients and their families hear
Address by Dr. Javeed Sukhera at MSIH Physician’s Oath Ceremony, 2017
“When I spoke to my same patients as a researcher instead of a physician, I quickly learned that no matter how well intentioned we are, we do not always intend to say what our patients and their families hear. These patients and families shared that the more they get to see our humanity, the stronger their connection and the quality of their healthcare experience.”
These profound words were spoken by MSIH 2007 alumnus, Dr. Javeed Sukhera, guest speaker at the Physician’s Oath Ceremony for the class of 2021. Dr. Sukhera, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Paediatrics at Western University, Ontario, Canada, explained how the best-intentioned physicians may have prejudices and preconceptions that can affect their patients – and can lead to feelings of emptiness and pointlessness for the physician him/herself.
After graduating MSIH, Javeed completed his residency in psychiatry and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Rochester in New York. He is currently enrolled as a Ph.D. student in Health Professions Education from Maastricht University’s School of Health Professions Education in the Netherlands. In addition to his clinical work at London Health Sciences Centre, Javeed actively investigates the behaviour of physicians among themselves and with patients.
“My research involved providing feedback to physicians and nurse colleagues that despite their best intentions, demonstrate unconscious biases,” he explained. “When I was on call in the emergency department, I began to see how my colleagues and friends were running on their own spinning wheels. They were all hardworking compassionate people who had high expectations of themselves and each other. I could see their humanity when I saw them at the school-drop off earlier that morning or shared stories with me about their weekend, but when I saw them with their patients I felt like I was watching a different person entirely.”
Like his peers, over the years Javeed found himself building defense mechanisms to protect himself from the suffering of his patients. It was a common device he saw among his peers.
“Survival meant disconnecting myself from what it meant to be human. It seemed that the only way to honor my physician’s oath was to be less than human. The tacit messages I received during my residency training were similar – numb yourself, harden yourself and protect yourself from feeling anything too deeply.”
Dr. Sukhera then explained the long road to self-awareness that brought him to his current position of paediatric psychiatrist and researcher into the unconscious dimensions of stigma and prejudice that doctors carry with them when dealing with patients.
“I was able to make the turnaround because of the training I received at MISH. Here, unlike other schools, students are immersed in the humanistic side of medicine. The Ben-Gurion graduate learns to hold their patient’s hand, look them in the eyes, and offer genuine emotion while speaking to them. It was because I’d been trained this way that I knew something was amiss with the person I’d become. That’s when I began to investigate.”
Javeed concluded by telling the bright, young students…
“My time in Beersheva and how it contributed to my personal and professional development is not something I can even capture in a speech. I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel for Ben-Gurion, for Beersheva and for the privilege it was to adopt the professional identity of a physician in a city where I was first bestowed with the title of “Doctor.”
Dr. Javeed Sukhera served on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Board of Directors from 2010-2012. He holds certification from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in both Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.