Haunted doctors

Catherine Belling*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The idea of being “haunted” appears often in accounts of the experience of health-care professionals and trainees who suffer from unresolved sorrow or regret about past clinical events, in particular the deaths of patients. The trope of haunting draws a direct line between past professional trauma and the dread of future failure, a connection embodied as a spectral patient who revisits the physician with doubt, anxiety, and exhaustion. This article suggests that the sense of being haunted may be a useful index for the unresolved effects of two omnipresent and underappre-ciated components of clinical practice: emotion and uncertainty. By connecting the aspects of feeling and (not) knowing that lead to physician suffering—in trauma that is inextricably both emotional and epistemological—a sustaining sense of meaning might be generated. Doctors’ work is, in several senses, weird, and medicine might benefit from paying closer attention to the etiologies and manifestations of its ghosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)466-479
Number of pages14
JournalPerspectives in biology and medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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