“The tragedy of illness at present is that it delivers you helplessly into the hands of a profession which you deeply mistrust”- George Bernard Shaw
In the science departments at Geneseo you will often here the professors telling you to always be skeptic as a scientist. I thought I generally understood what they meant, that you should always question data numbers and ask “why”. Following my reading the introduction of Medical Apartheid this quote sparked an important question to me, should you be skeptic towards medical professionals and what is the difference between being skeptical and mistrusting them?
Before reading Medical Apartheid if somebody was to tell me that medical journals or medical records were biased and inaccurate I with no doubt would have challenged that. I would have argued that there is no room for bias in a medical chart and only the “facts” are presented. Now I put “facts” in quotation marks because following my reading of Medical Apartheid I now understand that these “facts” in medical records are not always facts. A large portion of the introduction of Medical Apartheid Harriet Washington discusses the mistrust that African Americans have with medicine and doctors. This mistrust is no doubt warranted but it leaves me torn. Do I want to be a doctor that encourages my patients to trust me and not be skeptical or do I want to encourage my patients to be skeptical and to challenge me as a medical professional? The first option certainly sounds more ideal but morally it goes against what I am being taught as a scientist in training at Geneseo. This leads me to the question I introduced in the beginning, is there a difference between being skeptic and mistrusting?
Personally I think that you can be skeptic while also trusting someone. So no, mistrust and skepticism are not the same thing. Someone may counteract my argument by saying that if you don’t trust someone or something then you are being skeptical. My response to that would be, that I partially agree but by being skeptical you are not necessarily not trusting someone but rather challenging their idea. An example of this would be if your doctor prescribed you a medication. Someone that mistrusts their doctor would perhaps not take the medication, but someone who is skeptical would challenge the doctor and ask “why they chose that particular medication and what is was going to heal”.
Now that I defined what I perceive the difference between being skeptical and mistrusting is, this still leaves an important question: should you be skeptical towards medical professionals? Harriet Washington discusses in the introduction about how mistrusting African Americans are towards medicine due to the history of medical research exploitation. I do believe this mistrust is grounded but, in today’s modern medicine is skepticism still necessary? I believe that skepticism is always necessary. We as humans go to our medical professional in a very vulnerable state. It can be easy to let this vulnerability get the best of you and just passively let your medical professional “heal” you. As someone that wants to become a medical professional I think it’s very important that patients not only advocate for themselves but that medical professional advocate for the patient. By having a skeptical patient it forces medical professional to explain what they are doing and why they are doing something. These two explanations are often forgotten and are what I believe lead to the mistrusting of medical professional.