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What I Did Not Learn In Medical School

There is an important difference between treating and healing.

Key points

  • There needs to be a shift in how we manage and think about chronic disorders.
  • We need to shift our mindset to healing and not to just treating.
  • It is important to understand the difference between acute and chronic disorders.

I’ve been cheated by medical school. I was told I would heal—but I only treat. After four years of college, and then graduate school, four years of medical school, five years of general surgery residency, and a year of bariatric surgery training, I was thoroughly taught how to treat conditions. But I wanted to be taught how to heal. I have learned while in private practice that traditional medicine is good for dealing with acute disease but for chronic disease it only keeps things at bay—for a while.

What are acute diseases, you ask? Generally speaking, these are conditions that you acquire in a matter of days. For example, a broken leg, finger laceration or appendicitis, traditional medicine will heal those things. If you have hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety, obesity, high cholesterol or even asthma and allergies, to name a few, traditional medicine will only function as a bandaid. It will help keep problems at bay until something triggers the disorder again, and then we doctors find ourselves increasing or adding medications.

In medical school, I learned about disease processes and so many great things about how the body works and the arteries, veins and nerves that supply it. I learned about macro nutrition and how much protein, carbohydrate and fat we should have—but I did not learn nutrition. I did not learn that foods can heal and prevent certain disease states or that meditation can calm the nervous system from firing, which in itself can prevent and heal so many other diseases. I did not learn that the thought process can actually heal obesity, depression, anxiety and so many other chronic disorders.

After observing that a patient’s weight loss often returns after weight loss surgery and medical problems often relapse, I learned that to be healthy and to be a healer was to go beyond traditional medicine. I realized that for many of the diseases that I treat, which are chronic, I was only temporarily resolving the problem. If anything, or anyone, took that bandaid-fix off, they discovered that the wound of disease underneath was not healed but just pushed out of sight and appeared to be controlled.

Control as the new standard of care

Since when did control become the new standard of care? And why in medicine are we now content with calling a condition "under control: rather than healed or resolved? I thought resolution or even remission would be the end game, but our medical problems have become out of control to such epidemic levels that both patients and doctors are okay with diseases being under control.

Now, I understand that for some conditions, such as cancer and other end-stage diseases, mere control can be good. But I expect more from the common chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, asthma or “leaky gut,” just to name a few.
These chronic diseases can resolve. People can be healed from the diseases crippling them and become truly healthy. If it is possible, we should all not only want more but demand more. We should expect to be healed, not just treated.

Traditional medicine is great and can heal many acute processes, but it is not enough when it comes to the more common diseases many people are facing now. We need to update our mindset and believe that this shift can occur across the board.