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On kindness
  1. John Launer
  1. Dr John Launer, London Department of Postgraduate Medical Education, Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DN, UK; jlauner{at}

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“I’m not a clever doctor, but I am a kind one.” My colleague’s statement was striking and I have remembered it for many years. He was another local general practitioner (GP), close to retirement, and I was interviewing him as part of a research project. Everything I had learned about him during the conversation supported what he said. He wasn’t a high earner by comparison with most GPs, mainly because he cared little for ticking the boxes on lucrative but clinically pointless targets set by the local primary care trust. However, his surgery walls were covered with framed photos of weddings and new babies from among the local families he cared for, and his window sill was hidden underneath dozens of thank you cards. I discovered that he was now looking forward to retirement because it would allow him to be a full time grandparent to his daughter’s little boy and girl whom he adored. At the same time, he was worried that his former patients might fall into the hands of a younger GP of the sort who might install a large, visible clock in the consulting room, or who might think it improper to take someone’s hand in sympathy.

When the interview had finished he escorted me out through the waiting room. His evening surgery was about to start. He greeted each of the patients with a friendly smile or a touch on the shoulder. I sensed no element of sentimentality or theatre in this. It was the quality he had himself identified as his main strength: kindness. I wondered how many more doctors like him I would ever meet before the numbing effects of …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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