Victoria Agunloye: How to avoid losing our jobs to diagnosing computers

When I started as a doctor in the NHS, 10 years ago, I was aware of the standards expected of me and the bar that I was aiming for.

These standards dictated that I should care about and consider my patients’ psychological, social, as well as medical needs. These needs were intrinsically linked. I was taught that good communication and a kind bedside manner were the cornerstones of good practice. I was taught to be curious about the underlying physiology while managing my patient with care and kindness, and continuing to provide a service to the hospital.

Doctors’ attitudes seem to have changed. Bedside manner, compassion, and holistic care are now seen as an unnecessary luxury. It is not unusual for me to meet a junior or medical student whose main aim is to tick a job off their list or who only wants to know, “Will this be in the exam?”  It feels as if the art of practicing medicine has been forgotten.

I would like to offer a reminder. As the wife of a patient I have gained insight into how we can improve patient experience without much extra effort: better communication between teams, seeking out spouses and carers, and remembering that the patient is a person, not “a bed” and that a simple smile can make a huge difference.

My plea to my peers is this. Please maintain compassion and a good bedside manner in the face of time and administrative pressures. These pressures are huge, I know. I work with you and understand, but now is when we need to be at our best.  And avoid losing our jobs to diagnosing computers which are apparently better at diagnosing than us. We are capable of more than computers. We are capable of a hand squeeze, a reassuring touch on the shoulder when a patient or relative is distressed, a well-timed pause in conversation. It’s caring, or at least offers the perception of caring, and it inflates our budget by nil.

Going to work aiming for such high standards of holistic care, we may even be able to keep those hungry to dismantle our NHS at bay.

Victoria Agunloye is a paediatric registrar currently working in North London. Her husband was recently involved in a road traffic accident but has made a good recovery.

Competing interests: None declared