A Global Apology On Behalf Of Physicians Everywhere

Lissa Rankin, MD
12 min readApr 15, 2024

When I was working on my New York Times bestseller Mind Over Medicine , a friend of mine wrote to me right after leaving her doctor’s office. With her permission, I published her letter in Mind Over Medicine. She wrote:

Lissa, if this doctor robs me as I leave the building, I won’t be able to confirm it was him, as I don’t think he looked at me once. From the nurse intake to the actual exam room, both practitioners faced AWAY from me, toward their computer terminals, while they asked me questions and clicked away at the keyboard. The computer fed him my new prescription, and he never even discussed it with me. If a computer program is all I need to monitor and refill prescriptions on my current or chronic conditions, then what am I doing spending an hour in a waiting room, waiting to look at some guy’s back? Oh, and don’t forget- the nurse clearly put a wrong code into the computer, because he came in prepared to give me a BREAST exam, rather than listening to my asthmatic CHEST. I was like, “What are you talking about, sir? You have the wrong information, or else the wrong room.” Sigh. I’m so mad right now. I’m never coming here ever again.”

Hers was one of the tamer ones. The letters I got from those who suffered more extreme medical trauma broke my heart so much that I published A Global Apology On Behalf Of Physicians Everywhere over ten years ago. I’m finally ready to try to do something more than apologize- so I’ve gathered a rock star healing team to teach a new Zoom program Healing Medical Trauma.

Learn more and register here

I’ve updated my Global Apology to reflect how I feel now, so let me share it with you here. I’d really love your feedback, so we can customize the Healing Medical Trauma class. I’ll post this to my Facebook page, so please respond there if you have anything you wish to share with me about how you’ve been hurt by the medical system- and what you feel you would need in order to begin to heal.

I’ll start with my personal apologies, most of which are aimed at people who knew me back when I was seeing 40 patients/day in a busy managed care practice. I’m so sorry to that kid I chewed out in the grocery store after I had been on call for 72 hours- the one who couldn’t get my bagel scanned for the life of him, which led me to spew, “If I did my job the way you did your job, there would be dead people everywhere.” It sucks that I demeaned that kid, and I feel awful and ashamed about it all these years later. I’m sure there were others- nurses, medical students, and my own family- who got that kind of insulting behavior from me when I was exhausted, burned out, and angry that nobody stood up for my right to care about my most basic needs, including me.

To The Patients

I apologize to any OB/GYN patient who didn’t feel like she could speak up and tell me what she was really feeling because I was crabby or rushed or too caught up in my own pain to notice hers. I’m sorry to that nurse whose advice I may have dismissed or that OR tech I yelled at when he handed me the wrong instrument because he couldn’t read my mind. I’m sorry to that acupuncturist whose medical work I didn’t understand and therefore saw as less than my medical work. I’m sorry to my medical assistant, who was doing the best she could, and I’m sorry to my now ex-husband, who I was guilty of ordering around like he was part of my staff. If I’ve ever hurt anyone because of how I practiced medicine or who I am, I’m truly, deeply sorry. Please forgive me.

And because they may be too tired, busy, or asleep to do it themselves, let me also apologize to all of you who have been traumatized by doctors or by the medical system- on behalf of physicians everywhere.

If you’re a patient (as we all are), I apologize for any doctor who touched you brusquely and without asking. I’m sorry for all the times a doctor asked you a question and then cut you off before you answered or answered your questions with technical jargon that left you feeling stupid and scared, if they took the time to answer you at all. I’m sorry someone laughed when you suggested that your rash might be stress-related, and I’m sorry someone looked visibly annoyed when you did your homework and showed up to your appointment with internet printouts.

I’m sorry if you felt dehumanized when you overheard your doctor call you “Room 314” or “the cancer patient in OR 7.” I’m sorry your doctor called you over the phone to tell you that your biopsy was cancerous, rather than delivering the results with a hug and loads of empathy- in person, the way it should be. I’m sorry your doctor stormed out when you refused to take the anti-depressants he prescribed to treat your natural menopausal symptoms, and I’m sorry you had to wait two hours to be seen for a scheduled appointment, as if your doctor’s time is more valuable than yours.

I’m sorry you were treated like a gallbladder or a hip bone or a liver or a vagina. I’m sorry your doctor forgot that you’re a whole person with a brain and a heart and a soul and a family.

I’m sorry your doctor invalidated your intuition and assumed they knew what was best for you more than you did. I’m sorry they made fun of you for seeing the energy healer or the naturopath or the homeopath who was nicer, kinder, and more empathic than your doctor. I’m sorry if they insulted others you entrusted with your care because doctors have a tendency to think they’re at the top of the medical hierarchy- and everyone else is “less than.”

I’m sorry if you were demeaned and labeled “non-compliant” when you knew in your heart and in your bones that what was being recommended was not right for you. As long as your “no” does not impact the health of other people (as with public health measures like vaccination), your “no” should be a complete sentence. Your agency, your autonomy, and your right to say no even if it kills you is your birthright, as long as your no doesn’t kill someone else.

I’m sorry if you were so hurt by doctors or the medical system that you rebelled against the medical system in ways that wound up harming your health- because you lost trust in a system that is often untrustworthy. I’m sorry if someone you love refused medical care because dying young seemed better than enduring medical trauma at the hands of people who might seem like they don’t care about your feelings one bit. I’m sorry if the medical system has been so untrustworthy and so corrupt for so long that you don’t know who to trust anymore. Your suspicions are valid. Your fears are not paranoid. You have a right to wonder whether what your doctor recommends might make you die from the third leading cause of death in the US (before Covid)- preventable medical error. ( Read my thoughts co-written with my teacher Rachel Naomi Remen, MD on that statistic here .)

You deserve so much more, dear patient. You deserve to be heard, touched with gentle, loving hands, and invited to make informed, autonomous decisions about your own body. You deserve to have your innate self-healing mechanisms empowered and activated by those you trust with your whole health. You deserve to feel nurtured, cherished, and, dare I say it- LOVED by your health care team.

Love, presence, tenderness, and healing touch are the most healing gifts we can offer you, and yet, we’re denying you what you need like blood, like oxygen.

You have a right to be upset, and I’m so sorry if anyone has suggested that you’re wrong to feeling entitled to what you’re not getting from some of us. You have a right to feel held in the warm arms of those to whom you entrust you body, mind and spirit. It is our job as doctors to hold dear that privilege- and if we mess up because we are overworked, unappreciated, overwhelmed, burned out, and exhausted, then it is our job to apologize and make amends.

To The Nurses & Other Hospital and Medical Office Staff

If you are a non-physician health care provider, we doctors also owe you an apology, so let me apologize on behalf of all of us here. I’m sorry for that doctor that treats you as if you’re not fit to scrape gum off her shoe. I’m sorry you feel like nobody appreciates your empathy, your compassion, your caregiving and maybe the wisdom you’ve accumulated from years of experience that has been handed down for centuries in wisdom traditions doctors aren’t trained to understand and validate.. I’m sorry for the inhumane treatment you may have suffered at the hands of my colleagues, and I’m sorry you don’t feel validated, loved, respected, and cherished for the many times you’ve borne the indignities of your profession because arrogant doctors treat you like you’re less valuable. You don’t deserve that kind of narcissistic abuse- and I’m so sorry if you haven’t been given the respect you deserve.

Without you, we couldn’t do what we do, and without your loving touch and healing words, patients would suffer. We do appreciate you- especially you nurses, who bear the brunt of the dirty work of caregiving medical patients and who save lives because you warn us about what we might not be picking up on. I’m sorry if you can’t tell that we appreciate you sometimes, but we do. We know things would fall apart without you, and we know you protect our patients and cover our asses more times than we even know.

Thank you for cleaning up our messes, returning the phone calls we should be making ourselves, holding the bedpans, squeezing the patient’s hand as she drifts off into an anesthetic sleep, picking up the instruments we throw on the ground in a huff, wiping the patient’s soiled bum, doling out the pain medicine, hand feeding the applesauce, and most importantly, sitting at the bedside long after we storm in and out in 2 minutes without listening.

What you do matters. YOU matter. Love matters. And you are the love messengers who pick up where we leave off. We might remove diseased organs or set broken bones, but our patients heal because of what do. YOU are the real healers among us, dear nurses, alternative health care providers, and everyone else who picks up the pieces for us doctors. We bow to you and invite you to take equal seats at the healing round table, so we might better serve those who need us.

To CAM Providers

If you’re a complementary or alternative medicine provider or some other sort of counselor, coach, or healer, I’m sorry so many physicians respond to what they don’t understand by dismissing you or making you wrong. I’m sorry you’ve had your treatment plans changed without the respect of a simple phone call. I’m sorry you’ve gone to all this trouble to build a relationship with your client, only to have some doctor tear it apart with one ignorant and closed-minded comment. I apologize for that doctor who told your client that what you do is a bunch of valueless woo woo hooey not deserving of their hard-earned money.

I’m sorry they don’t teach us much about what you do in medical school, and I’m sorry we’re not motivated to learn more so we can better collaborate. I’m sorry we act like we’re “better” than you and lord our medical degrees over you in a misguided attempt to assuage our own insecurities.

What you do heals. Patients transform. You love. You listen. You spend time laying on hands as we rarely do anymore. It’s no wonder people value what you do, even when insurance companies don’t cover it. Ancient traditions bring great gifts to the healing toolbox we all share. By embracing the scientific method in Western medicine, we’ve made the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but you hold the baby. You nurture the baby. And that baby is time, presence, healing touch, and most of all- LOVE.

To Medical Students, Residents & Practicing Physicians

In medical training, we eat our young. I’m sorry you were sexually harassed by narcissistic attendings who felt entitled to you because you were young and hot. I’m sorry you were pimped and verbally abused, insulted and demeaned because you got the answer wrong. I’m sorry you were criminally assaulted by people who think they’re allowed to abuse you just because they’re responsible for your grade.

I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to funerals or weddings or your own child’s birthday party- and your relationships suffered as a result. I’m sorry you lost sleep, had to work when you were sick, and sacrificed twelve years of your life to wind up in a system you might not have realized is as corrupt as it is.You had such good intentions when you went to medical school- and you shouldn’t have to sell out the way you’re expected to do.

I’m sorry you had to spend at least twelve years living broke and nearly destitute while all your other smart friends from college were getting jobs and houses and having babies and real lives. I’m sorry you were then an indentured servant because of school debt and malpractice tails you can’t afford to pay off. I’m sorry if you now feel trapped and want to do something else, but what? I’m sorry you feel so helpless, powerless, and incapable of making much of a difference in a medical system that traumatizes everyone it touches.

Your PTSD as a result of your medical education and practice is to be expected. You deserve healing too. You matter too. Your needs are every bit as important and the needs of those you serve, and you’ll probably need years of therapy to remember that YOU MATTER as more than just a caregiver to others. You deserve to receive care. Please let others care for you as you recover from the moral injury and trauma of becoming a doctor and practicing medicine in a system that gives lip service to patient well being but is ultimately beholden to the financial bottom line.

You are my people, so I want you to know that even though I’m apologizing on behalf of all doctors, I still care about you and your beautiful, open, warm, caring, altruistic heart. If you haven’t read it yet, please read my teacher Rachel Naomi Remen, MD’s Kitchen Table Wisdom. It will be a balm for your broken heart, as it was for mine when I first read it in 2007 after walking away from the hospital for good.

Why Am I Apologizing On Behalf Of All Doctors?

You may think, “But it’s not your fault, Lissa.” And no, it may not be directly my fault, at least not this time. No, maybe I wasn’t the one who never looked up from the computer when you last saw your doctor. Maybe I wasn’t the one who forgot your name, or shoved a prescription for a medication at you when you were crying without bothering to listen to what triggered the tears. I wasn’t the one who told your patient that alternative medicine was bullshit, when you were healing her illness.

I may not have been the one who yelled at you in front of the patient when you offered a suggestion you thought might help more than what I had ordered. I may not have thrown that bloody scalpel at you in the OR or squished you like a bug with my words. I may not have tormented you in medical school or mocked you when you cried.

And yet, I am not beyond reproach. I have been guilty of some of these wrongdoings, and my heart is full of remorse. After embarking upon my own healing journey and releasing much of the post-traumatic stress I suffered on the inside of the health care system, I now feel called to make amends. Part of how I’m doing this is to offer a Zoom workshop I’ve been reluctant to offer. It’s called Healing Medical Trauma and I’ve invited the best healers I know to try to heal this wound with me.

Learn more and register here

Share Your Stories

I’d love to hear your feedback, so please join the conversation on my Facebook page. What do you want me to know so I can do a better job healing this wound for those who join us in Healing Medical Trauma? What do you believe would help YOU heal? What story do you wish to have witnessed? Let’s crowd source this tender issue together. I do care.

Share your stories on Facebook here.



Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.