“Love and Medical Education”

By Rajesh Mangrulkar


Here’s an exercise – what if we asked our patients if their doctor loved them? What would they say? I wonder if they would even know what we mean? Currently, patient care has become an industry; we live in a corporate culture. Think of all of the words we use. Throughput. Efficiency. Outcomes. Dashboards. Customer. Provider. Client.

But what would it look like if love was part of Medicine…part of medical education?

I think love would look like COURAGE.

Courage to stand up for what we believe is needed for our patients, for our students, and for ourselves. To lead change against the corporatization of our health care. To stand up for what our training does to our learners; stating clearly that we are all students, growing and developing, and that education should tap into our inner yearning to evolve and grow in ways that build on our strengths, and stretch ourselves into different areas.

Instead, it feels as if love is expressed in its most pure form when we are born, but then erodes as we go through our educational system. Watch a classroom in a traditional school. You’ll see “lesson plans”, “grades”, “competencies”, “tests”, “rankings”, “quartiles” – all designed to create order in a system of learning, but chip away at our innate desire to grow. Medical education may be worse: it separates us from each other, creates hierarchy, hides our failings, and prevents us from being authentic.

Is there a different way?  I recently asked my eldest daughter to describe her 10-year Montessori education experience, and she reflected that she “never felt like the day was a chore, or that learning was a task. I just felt that it was part of me being who I am.” She expressed a longing for that time when she could be her authentic self, while she was learning. In a Montessori classroom, there are no grades, but students still grow and develop dramatically in academics, emotions, and spiritually. Its approach nurtures the inner spirit of the child, designed to uncover their innate love of learning and growing. Our traditional modes of education seem to do the opposite.

Why don’t we have the COURAGE to speak up and act in advocacy for a new way? If we did, medical education would have far more opportunities for students to reflect on their purpose. It would rid itself of grades and standardized exams, but would instead look to tap into the inner yearning we all have to learn as the primary motivation to grow and develop. And as teachers, we would be authentic with our learners about our own struggles in our own journey.

In essence, we would treat our students like family. True love is unconditional; our current system is transactional: “I will teach you but you have an obligation to show me full respect while I teach you.” “I will take care of you as a patient, but you better not be late and make me late in my clinic.” To fully express love in medical education, our system would state very clearly that what we did with each other was not dependent on any other factor, except that we strive to uncover our students’ inner yearning to actualize.

This is no small challenge. Our current solutions, like changing the curriculum or introducing a new course, are just small first steps; but they are not comprehensive solutions to this big problem. We need a new value system and a fundamentally new way of looking at medical education. It starts with LOVE, and it will require us to be courageous in expressing this value in everything we do.

It requires a movement. Do you want to join?