The Power of Vulnerability

We share many similar characteristics as human beings. We want to feel loved, accepted, part of a group. We want inclusion, not exclusion. We want to feel respected, listened to and honored. In medicine that drive may be even stronger than in the general population.  Patients look to us for answers. They expect solutions to their problems and we’re the “Great Wizard of Oz.” Do you remember the man behind the curtain?

What happens, then, when we realize that we don’t have all of the answers? We can do our very best, yet may fall short of fulfilling the expectations put upon us. At times in the emergency department I personally feel extremely vulnerable. When I have to say “I don’t know” my stomach gets tied up in knots, my heart starts to race, and my chest heaves. Sure, I try to give an explanation why; (“All of the tests are normal,” or “It may be too early in the illness for it to have declared itself,” or “The combination of symptoms don’t fit a typical pattern,” etc. etc.) but I still feel like a failure. Worse yet is the dreaded, “Hey, remember that patient you signed out last week?” Any missed diagnosis, poor patient outcome, or complaint hits me where it hurts. I suspect that I’m not alone.

Brene Brown’s TedTalk turns the concept of vulnerability on its head. She talks about how the people who are most able to be resilient through hardship are able to express courage, compassion, and connection. They are able to express their vulnerability with others and that makes them stronger. Her talk is funny and relatable. It holds true for all people all over the world, doctors included.