New York doctor opens up about fear, self-doubt and shame

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    Dr. Danielle Ofri talks with Maiken Scott about the constant threat of lawsuits and the fear that comes with being a physician. (Photo courtesy of John Abbott Photo)

    Dr. Danielle Ofri talks with Maiken Scott about the constant threat of lawsuits and the fear that comes with being a physician. (Photo courtesy of John Abbott Photo)

    Doctors usually ask us how we feel – but New York physician Danielle Ofri says how and what doctors feel can be the elephant in the treatment room. 

    Ofri is an internist at the nation’s oldest public hospital, Bellevue Hospital.  She recently visited us in our Philadelphia studios to talk about her new book “What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine.”

    In her book, Ofri talks about all of the complicated feelings experienced by doctors – self doubt, sadness, shame and, most importantly, fear. 

    “Fear is woven into the daily existence of medicine – fear that we will harm our patients, kill them, forget something, miss a diagnosis,” she told The Pulse’s Maiken Scott in a recent interview. 

    Physicians tend to put on their game face, said Ofri, despite feelings of self doubt and shame over possible mistakes.  She said she thinks the culture of perfectionism in medicine is so pervasive, it prevents healthcare providers from discussing a very important opportunity for learning – near misses – when something almost goes very wrong.  She told us about one of her own near misses that took place while on call at Bellevue Hospital.

    “I was horrified, so ashamed of what I had done,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

    She looks back on that particular day as a missed opportunity, saying that had she felt comfortable enough to report the mistake to her supervisor, she would have spared herself years of unnecessary guilt and self doubt. 

    Ofri also addressed the constant threat of lawsuits, the sadness that comes along with the loss and suffering of patients and shared one way that she copes with the emotions that come with her career. 

    Click on the audio button above to hear the full interview.  

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