Multiple vulnerabilities in medical settings: Invisible suffering of doctors

Daria Litvina, Anastasia Novkunskaya, Anna Temkina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


While there is a substantive amount of literature on vulnerability of different kinds of patients in different settings, medical professionals are usually considered as the ones who possess power and gain a privileged position. In this paper, we aim to demonstrate that in a certain context physicians—a social group which is usually referred to as “powerful”—consider themselves vulnerable, and this positioning may influence patients in turn. This perspective highlights the complexity of interactions within medical organizations and contributes to the studies of sensitive topics and vulnerable groups. We conceptualize vulnerability of doctors and discuss what can be problematic in powerful doctors’ position. We describe some features of the post-Soviet context of Russian healthcare system and maternity care, both of which can be conceptualized as a hybrid of legacy of Soviet paternalism and new neoliberal reforms, managerialism and marketization. Empirical research is based on the ethnographic evidence from the study of a Russian perinatal center. In this article, we explore specific “existential” and “moral” vulnerabilities of medical professionals who routinely have to cope with multiple challenges, such as complicated clinical tasks, rigid control of different state bodies and emotional responses of suffering patients. We argue that there is a bond between the vulnerability of doctors and that of patients, whose position becomes more problematic as professionals become more vulnerable. At the end, we discuss methodological and theoretical implications of our research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Doctors
  • Healthcare
  • Maternity care
  • Perinatal center
  • Suffering
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)


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