The occupational hazard of professional objectivity.

Medical professionals and researchers need to detach themselves from patients to ensure good quality of care and good research practice. But is this objectivity involved in the development of stigmas in the medical profession and damaging to the practitioner/patient relationship?


In cases of medical research, patients can often be defined by their physiological characteristics, such as a mental disorder or a disability. While I appreciate that anonymity and objectivity is incredibly important in the construction of a good research project, I think that is crucial not to dehumanise patients. Furthermore, this sometimes discriminatory objectivity could be perpetuating the stigmas many patients face in the general public. This argument is also supported by the reports of some patients experiencing issues of prejudice from medical professionals themselves; in the forms of not feeling understood or supported and even some cases of poor professional practice. Of course, these cases may not be the result of medical objectivity contributing to a form of discrimination, but due to social stigmas being present.

Detached objectivity may also underlie some cases of abuse or mistreatment of the elderly or disabled in care homes (but of course, this would be largely be due to discrimination itself). Objectivity could possibly breed dehumanisation, and thus the patients could be seen as “disposable” or their lives not being fully appreciated.

Obviously, I am not placing the blame of social stigma and patient abuse on detached objectivity, as it is a useful and important factor in good quality care and research. However I think that in some cases this professional detachment could sometimes cross over into the dangerous territory of devaluing patients lives. This could then affect practitioner/patient relationships and could potentially trickle into the societal opinion of the patients and contribute to the development of a stigma. Thus, it is important for medical professionals and researchers to take into account their language when discussing patients and cases to ensure that they are not dehumanised or misrepresented.

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