Muir Gray: Ann McPherson – trilingual clinician

Muir Gray

The obituary by Charles Warlow of Ann McPherson showed that she was not only a bilingual but a trilingual clinician, and we have to ensure that her example will stimulate others to follow her leadership and use their experience as patients or carers to change health services for the better.

A bilingual clinician understands not only the needs of the individual, but also the whole system that needs to be changed if the clinical encounter with, and the experience of, the individual patient is to be improved.  A trilingual clinician is not only a good clinician, and the testimonies at the celebration after Ann’s funeral made it clear she was a great clinician, and an effective agent of change, but that they also bring something else – their experience of disease and illness. A doctor’s personal experience of both their disease and the way it was managed, should be used much more often in the way that Ann’s experiences, both good and bad, was turned to good use

The difficulties that doctors face when they become patients is very well captured in Robert Klitzman’s book called When doctors become patients. The shock of the diagnosis, the unfeeling paternalism of colleagues, and sometimes the mistakes they can see evolving in front of their eyes, all make illness even more difficult for doctors, although most of the public probably believe that doctors have an easy ride. Disease in the family is also very traumatic, as my own experience testifies. But both being a patient and being a carer offer unique insights to the clinician willing to become trilingual, and speak with passion and knowledge for better care or a transformation in the contract between the service and the patient, as Ann did so eloquently in the development of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.

We need expert patients as co-producers or co- transformers; where easier to find them than among our own profession?

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