What makes a good doctor?

There are a million things that make a doctor a “good doctor”. But really, every one of them stems from a distinct feature. Exceptional patient-centred care.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

An average doctor treats a patient’s illness and sends them home. A great doctor, however, goes above and beyond for their patient, alleviating their suffering and improving their quality of life.

Making the patient feel that they matter is indispensable to being a good doctor. Empathy, wholeheartedly understanding the feelings of a patient aids this significantly. When a doctor is empathetic, not only will patients feel more comfortable, knowing their feelings are recognised, but doctors too can take action to address their concerns. This is validated by research, which shows that empathy is directly therapeutic.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

One candid display of a doctor’s empathy was the creation of “Magic String”. Invented by a Radiotherapist, it is used to quell the anxiety of children facing Radiotherapy, who have to be left in the room alone. Children clasp one end of the “Magic String”, while their parents hold the other. Knowing they are still “tethered” to their parent, reframes a child’s experience from one of abandonment, to one of love and support.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

For patients to have the best care possible, a team of healthcare professionals who can work cohesively, with open communication and effective coordination is essential. For instance, in surgery, Anaesthetists, Surgeons and Scrub Nurses all work together to operate on a patient, each individual playing their role. One doctor can never do everything themselves.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

Medicine is an ever-evolving field, with fresh medical developments and new diseases appearing each day. In order to treat and diagnose patients immaculately, good doctors always keep up to date with research. In the case of Covid-19, hospitals and doctors have had to adapt in countless ways, such as dividing wards into different coloured zones, according to the risks of Covid-19 exposure. With rapid developments like these, doctors have to be open and responsive to new protocols and procedures.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

As a doctor, a wrong diagnosis or false move in Surgery can have detrimental effects on a life. Since doctors are humans just like us, it’s unfortunately inevitable that they’ll make a mistake or two in their career. Consequently, it’s cardinal they have the ability to learn from them. One poignant example is in the book: “Do No Harm”- by Henry Marsh, a Neurosurgeon. He describes a surgery, where upon removing the most difficult part of the tumour, his overconfidence led to his decision to remove redundant parts of the tumour to accomplish the “perfect” surgery. In his pride, he made a mistake which ultimately killed his patient. This was heart-wrenching for him and was difficult to get over. Fortunately, he was able to learn from this and became a better surgeon afterwards because of it.

Ultimately, what I believe is at the heart of making a good doctor, is a doctor whose patient is centre stage in whatever they do. No matter who their patient is or what they’ve done, a good doctor never loses sight of the real person in front of them and does their job wholeheartedly for their patient.

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"


1) Elliot M. Hirsch, MD 2007 The role of Empathy in Medicine: A Medical Student’s Perspective AMA Journal of Ethics < https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/role-empathy-medicine-medical-students-perspective/2007-06>

2) Clarke, Rachel. Dear Life. Pages 141-142.

3) Nikolai, Ramadanov, 2020. Teamwork in a Surgical Department <https://www.intechopen.com/online-first/teamwork-in-a-surgical-department>

4) Chong, C., 2020. Dividing The Emergency Department Into Red, Yellow, And Green Zones To Control COVID-19 Infection; A Letter To Editor. PubMed Central (PMC). <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7305635/>

5) Marsh, Henry. Do No Harm.

6) All Visual Elements made by me using Canva <canva.com>

This essay was originally submitted to the Medicine Category at the Immerse Essay Competition, winning an academic scholarship for a Medicine summer school program at Cambridge.


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