Humility is one of those core values, and a wonderful essay by Dr. Jack Coulehan in the Annals of Internal Medicine wonderfully discusses the virtue of humulity and its importance in medicine. This brief 2 page essay can be read in 10 minutes, and it will be 10 minutes well spent.
Coulehan has a three part definition of humility: (1) unflinching self-awareness; (2) empathic openness to others; (3) a keen appreciation of, and gratitude for, the privilege of caring for others. Coulehan contrasts humility with arrogance. In many ways humility is the opposite of arrogance.
Medicine would be well served if we had more humility and less arrogance. This is especially true in academic medicine. Coulehan notes that while medical education once promoted collegiality and shared values, it now promotes egoism and entitlement.
Too often, academic medicine encourages and rewards self-promotion and egoism. Our students notice and learn from this hidden curriculum and it clearly must lead to behaviors that are not good for patients.
As Coulehan notes, humility is not inconsistent with pride in accomplishments and achievements. But, when we have too much egoism and too little humility in our training environments, it promotes a cultural in which leaders and teachers start to see themselves as the center of the universe, rather than their students, colleagues and patients.
Good, humble leaders believe they are there for the benefit of those they lead. Arrogant leaders believe their trainees and subordinates exist for their benefit. I suspect these behaviors are contagious and a key determinant of whether one will develop into a humble or arrogant leader is which of these of attributes dominated the enrivonment in which you trained.
Coulehan's call for humility presents a central challenge for medicine and our academic training environments. More humility and less arrogance will do much to improve how we care for our patients, teach our students, and conduct our research.
by: [Ken Covinsky]