Can a doctor who has a headache disorder understand — and treat — your illness better than one who doesn’t? Is shared experience necessary for empathy?
“How could I possibly understand or help her, she seemed to be asking, if I had not personally experienced her pain?
“Her question caught me by surprise and made me pause. O.K., I’ll admit it. I’m a cheerful guy who’s never really tasted clinical depression. But along the way I think I’ve successfully treated many severely depressed patients.
“Is shared experience really necessary for a physician to understand or treat a patient? I wonder. After all, who would argue that a cardiologist would be more competent if he had had his own heart attack, or an oncologist more effective if he had had a brush with cancer?
“Of course, a patient might feel more comfortable with a physician who has had personal experience with his medical illness, but that alone wouldn’t guarantee understanding, much less good treatment.”