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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Let's Hope Our New Medical School Teaches The Human Side Of Medicine


In some ways, a four-year medical school is just another box that Charlotte gets to check. Fortune 500 companies, check. NBA and NFL teams, check. Shake Shack, check.

For years we’ve been the biggest metro area in America without a four-year medical school. Atrium Health and Wake Forest University announced last week that they’re going to remedy that by building a medical school in Charlotte sometime in the next few years.

I will warn you, from personal experience, that being a patient in a town with a medical school can be a little weird. Many years ago, I went to the Duke University Hospital to have my throat looked at. The way this was done was by threading a tube with a camera on it up my nose and then down into my throat. Just as the doctor got ready to do this, a group of med students walked by. “Hey,” he told them, “you want to see how this is done?” And that’s how I found myself leaning back my head as a dozen medical students peered up my nose.

(Just to be clear, the doctor asked me if it was OK. So I took one for the team in the name of science.)

But by and large, having a medical school in town is a huge plus. Where medical schools land, money tends to follow, both in research grants and economic development. We’ll also have a bunch of young, smart doctors-to-be in our midst.

I do have one request, though. When this new medical school arrives, I hope that all the students are reminded that as they become doctors, it’s also important that they remain human beings.

My father-in-law died a year and a half ago. My mom died a few months later after a long illness. My wife and I spent a lot of time sitting by hospital beds and burning time in ICU waiting rooms. We met a lot of doctors. Most of them were wonderful. A few of them looked more at their computers than their patients, and spoke to us clinically instead of humanely, as if our family members were case studies rather than people with blood and bone and beating hearts.

They were probably all good doctors. But we never came away from those encounters feeling better.

I don’t think most of us want false hope in those moments, or for our doctors to tell us less than the truth. I can’t imagine how hard it is to walk from room to room, talking to patients you might not be able to save. But kindness matters. Empathy matters. It means something to show you care.

When our medical school comes to town, I hope they teach those things, too.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.