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Managing Emotions in Medical School: Students' Contacts with the Living and the Dead

Allen C. Smith, III and Sherryl Kleinman
Social Psychology Quarterly
Vol. 52, No. 1, Special Issue: Sentiments, Affect and Emotion (Mar., 1989), pp. 56-69
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2786904
Page Count: 14
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Managing Emotions in Medical School: Students' Contacts with the Living and the Dead
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Abstract

Professionals are not supposed to feel desire or disgust for their clients, and they presumably begin to learn " affective neutrality" in professional school. Medical students learn to manage the inappropriate feelings they have in situations of clinical contact with the human body, but two years of participant observation revealed that the subject of "emotion management" is taboo. Yet the culture of medicine that informs teaching also includes a hidden curriculum of unspoken rules and resources for dealing with unwanted emotions. Students draw on aspects of their training to manage their emotions. Their emotion management strategies include transforming the patient or the procedure into an analytic object or event, accentuating the comfortable felings that come from learning and practicing "real medicine," empathizing with patients or blaming them, joking, and avoiding sensitive contact. By relying upon these strategies, students reproduce the perspective of modern Western medicine and the kind of doctor-patient relationship it implies.

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