Expertise vs. Compassion: Can Bad People Be Good Doctors?

Monday, October 05, 2015 Stef dela Cruz, MD 2 Comments

Is being a good person a requisite for being a good doctor? “No,” said a fellow doctor on my personal Facebook page after I posted this question.

expertise and compassion

Sadly, he’s right to a certain degree. There are many doctors out there – all of whom are successful in their respective fields – who do not believe in the tenet, “First, do no harm.”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

When I interviewed an engineer for an article, he asked me, “Why are there so many doctors with zero bedside manners?” He then told me a horror story about how his own doctor erased the “Dr.” prefix from the chart after he found out “it was a mere PhD”.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes, too: doctors who scam their own patients and specialists who post nasty stories about “problem patients” on Facebook. Then there’s the occasional colleague who posts pictures of his patients lying unconscious on the operating table, their faces out there on display for everyone to see.

If I gave you these doctors’ names, you might be surprised to discover that they are all doing just fine. Diabolical personalities aside, they are actually doing a great job diagnosing patients and giving them the treatment they need.

Our hospitals are teeming with experts – physicians who know exactly which laboratory procedure to request for and what drug to prescribe. Patients’ symptoms abate under their care.

They clearly have the know-how. If I gave them a star for every patient they had who felt better under their watch, their clinics would sparkle with stellar constellations.

Sadly, not every expert has compassion. For those who operate with knowledge but without heart, the empathy gene just might have skipped them when natural selection took its course.

Expertise without Compassion

Before we took it upon ourselves to yield the stethoscope as our chosen weapon, we were taught by our parents how to listen to and care about others.

Yes, we are doctors, nurses, physical therapists, midwives, pharmacists, and nurse assistants. But we are human beings first and foremost.

Now, let me tell you what prompted this blog post. Let me share with you what I saw online that made me react this strongly.

I saw a video by Unilab showcasing their focus on Husay at Malasakit (Expertise and Compassion) and I thought, how timely. In a world where compassion fatigue is as common as hypertension yet not as recognized, we can benefit from a constant reminder about being good to others while also being good at what we do for a living.

I was touched by Unilab’s video on expertise with compassion. What a great campaign!

Expertise without compassion simply doesn’t make sense, like fighting for survival but living without purpose. For the former to matter, the latter has to exist.

Curious about Unilab’s video, I did a little digging and found out that their Husay at Malasakit movement promotes the provision of health products to different parts of the Philippines. It looks like Unilab has been trying to make healthcare products accessible, whether to people who live in an overpopulated city or to those in a village atop a mountain which you can reach only after a three-day hike.

Related post: Mabait versus mabuti (kindness versus goodness)

UnilabUnilab now follows the “compassionate expertise” principle. All healthcare facilities should follow suit!

They might have changed a few of their protocols, but it looks like they want to retain how they show concern for employees and patients alike. Good for them!

Husay at Malasakit

Yes, there is the occasional doctor who can’t find compassion in his heart. However, there are many others who can’t think of anything more important than giving their patients the best possible care.

There are many good doctors who are also genuinely good people! Some of them fight visible battles, changing existing legislation to help underprivileged populations afford the care they need. Some are discreet warriors, fighting at the frontlines by catering to patients in areas so remote they don’t have any cellphone signal.

Dear health experts, let us follow the great example set by Unilab’s drive for expertise with compassion. Let husay at malasakit be a daily mantra, a given, a can’t-live-without refrain sung from the bottom of our hearts. The Filipino people deserve no less.

Now, it’s time for you to do something important!

Fight compassion fatigue by sharing this with your doctor and nurse friends! Share this with friends and family who are not only experts, but also compassionate health professionals. Give them the encouragement they need; we need them to know they are very much appreciated!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. Hi stef!
    I just want to ask for some tips more mostly on how is the life of a doctor here in the Philippines like how they celebrate Christmas and new year, how much is their monthly salary (provinces and urban) particularly if i wanted to work as a doctor in remote provinces here in the Philippines cause i heard they lacking doctors there , i also want to know how many years do i need to take to become a pediatrician. i am currently a 2nd year college pre-med student. thanks in advance! God bless!

  2. Nam, there is no cookie-cutter answer to any of your questions, I'm afraid.

    Best if you talk to individual doctors in person, specifically pediatricians, since pedia is the field you're eyeing. Good luck! :)