Doctors have a variety of identifiers that indicate their profession and expertise in medicine: scrubs, white coats, and stethoscopes, to name a few. However, they also may wear metaphorical “masks” when delivering bad news to patients or families that are difficult to emotionally maintain at times.
During a recent group meeting at Johns Hopkins University, physicians gathered to discuss the history of “masks” worn in medicine, from masks used in shamanism to the founders of the university wearing black robes to project competence at a time when medical schools did not have strict entrance requirements. The participants discussed if the physical “masks” of healthcare like the white coat are necessary to project authority and when the emotional “masks” are cracked, such as telling parents that their child’s prognosis is bleak. While not all physicians agree on the time and place for using these “masks,” discussing them opens the doors for dialogue on the struggles of medicine that can be deeply emotional.
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