Our training as physicians is about healing, usually conceived as fixing. Many of us struggle with what we cannot fix, which of course in most medical fields is the rule, not the exception.

The language we use speaks volumes, especially when spoken to patients. In oncology for some reason, we frequently hear: “the patient has failed [treatment x].” Doctors don’t usually say it this way to patients, but they hear it and feel it, consciously or otherwise.

In a novel I happen to be reading, the protagonist hears this from her physician after multiple miscarriages:

The doctor had a name for what had happened to her babies, and he threw it at her with unintended cruelty during the final visit. “An incompetent cervix,” he pronounced. “You can keep on conceiving, but I don’t recommend it.” She sat perfectly still, her hands clenched, her jaw stiff. She was defenseless. She couldn’t imagine ever feeling carefree again.

Our collaborative future in healthcare is one where we neither blame the patient nor the physician, but as a team do our best to understand our challenges and how best to approach them.