Review of “Heart Murmurs” by Sharon Dobie

by Molly OlmstedHeartMurmurs_Cover

“It was quiet while they wrote,”  states Valerie Ross, MS in describing workshops in which physicians wrote about coming to know themselves better through interactions with their patients. The stories that emerged from these workshops are compiled in a collection of short narratives and reflections titled Heart Murmurs: What Patients Teach Their Doctors by Sharon Dobie, MD.

By weaving together a diverse collection of stories and musings from various physicians, including herself, Dobie conveys one outstanding point: doctors learn as much from their patients as patients learn from their doctors. Sorted by theme, each story details a patient interaction that left more than a small impact on the treating physician. Some of the themes explored in the collection include opposing bias, accepting the inevitable, defining the provider-patient relationship, and finding courage in the face of fear.

For healthcare providers, these stories may provide renewed inspiration, encouraging clinicians at all levels of training to reflect more closely on the reciprocity of provider-patient interactions. As Dobie writes, “physicians (maybe patients too) don’t talk much about what results from the wealth of exposure that comes from being invited into our patient’s lives. From this place, we witness and share, … close enough to observe and participate, and close enough to learn about ourselves.”

However, this book also has value for those who do not work in healthcare. In providing unique insights into the profound impact that one patient can have on the life and practice of their physician, Dobie hopes this book will allow patients to “see and recognize [themselves] and appreciate [their] value.”  As certain vulnerabilities and insecurities that may seem universal to healthcare workers are exposed on the page, physicians are humanized to the reader, allowing room for an even more powerful connection.

Finally, some stories serve as a reminder that in the end, sometimes what matters most isn’t medicine at all. Sara Ehdaie details one story about an elderly woman brought in by her daughter.  The daughter was as much in need of care as her elderly mother, though not of the same type; the daughter needed reassurance, comforting, and support. In Sara’s story, the elderly woman passes away. As Sara reflects on this encounter, she writes, “It was a humbling experience to know that my medical interventions were not central in the end. Listening and empathy were the best medicine.” Stories like these remind us all that sometimes compassion and humanism can be the most valuable things brought into an exam room.

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Molly Olmsted is a 2015 graduate of Whitman College, a clinical research coordinator at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and a volunteer with The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Research Institute. She thoroughly enjoys her work with the foundation and hopes to attend medical school in the future.