Which deadly sin can help save the NHS?

Since antiquity, mankind has held a belief in the deadly sins. A list of seven infamous and destructive vices may not feel like the natural place to look for inspiration to help a health service creaking under a myriad of pressures and challenges.

But, there is one deadly sin that Doctors and other healthcare workers would benefit from indulging in more often.

  • Gluttony? – Those christmas chocolates in the staff room are delicious, but you will regret eating too many and it doesn’t set a good example.
  • Wrath? – We see injustice every day. However, revenge usually disappoints and escalates.
  • Envy? – Being jealous of your friend who made a million in the city won’t help anyone.
  • Lust? – Fraternising on the ward won’t help the patients.
  • Sloth? – Laziness and not doing what you should will harm patients and your career.
  • Greed? – Perhaps – Money is a good motivator, and pay is important, but the NHS is not the place to make millions.

I am thinking of course, of Pride!

The sin of pride is confusing.

We are proud of our children, our families, our heritage. Have you ever wished someone would take more pride in their work? Pride can motivate people to study hard and to do their best for others. Surely it is ok to be proud?

On the other hand, pride can lead us to be overconfident in our abilities, to believe that we are special and superior, and to ignore warnings thinking we know better. Pride can turn people into dangerous jerks.

Pride has always been part of the identity and perception of the medical profession. From the widely held image of the kindly and open minded yet educated and decisive physician to the stereotype of the arrogant and head strong old surgeon (sorry surgeons ;-)).

The Seven Deadly Sins: Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500 or The Walt Disney Company, late 20th century – Choose your preferred cultural reference point


What is pride anyway?

Pride does in fact come in two distinct flavours. Jessica Tracy discusses the duplicity and power of pride in here book, Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success.

Studies have shown that pride is a universal signal of status. People from diverse cultures around the world are able to recognise expressions and poses depicting pride. Congenitally blind athletes, after winning an event, will stand tall, with chest expanded and shoulders back in a recognisably proud posture. People like to feel pride and are attracted to and follow those who display it. People who are proud work harder. Leaders can use it to draw followers to a cause and to motivate them.

  • Authentic Pride is the kind people feel from a sense of accomplishment. This is what we feel when we pass an exam, change something for the better at work or make a difference to a patient. It is felt when we attribute successes to unstable, controllable causes, like effort or hard work.
  • Hubristic Pride is centred on the self. This is where people believe that success or superiority is attributed to a fixed quality such as race, nationality, social status, position or title. The messages of German National Socialism of the 1930s might be considered an appeal to hubristic pride.

Pride is considered the most serious of all the deadly sins, perhaps because of its power to motivate people to action.

How can pride help the NHS?

The NHS faces many problems. Amongst them are difficulties attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, the demoralisation those working in the system, and the faltering support from politicians and (perhaps now) some of the public.

We need to make our profession attractive to students again and we need to cultivate support from our politicians and the public.


A confident display of pride by General Practice, medics and the NHS is in order.


How pride in the medical profession is being undermined:
  • Unfounded criticisms – Are GPs really responsible for surge in A&E attendances?
  • Outright bullying by senior politicians – Seven day working or you will lose income!
  • Being asked to meet impossible demands and expectations… And predictably failing.
  • Being forced to lower professional standards – Feeling it is impossible to do the job as well as you should.
  • Lacking time or energy for proper professional learning and development.
  • Roles being threatened and undermined – Talk of A.I. apps and replacement with other professions.
  • Autonomy, and independent decision making being threatened by a box ticking and nannying culture.
How to encourage pride in ourselves and our teams
  • Authentic pride comes from purpose and achievement through action – Be clear with yourself and your team about what you are trying to achieve together and what success looks like. In some places, for the moment, this may simply mean the department or practice surviving and being safe.
  • Role model desired behaviours – walk the walk and others will follow.
  • Be positive and confident that you are doing your best with the resources you have.
  • Celebrate and praise achievements and good behaviour big and small.
  • Students and juniors will be attracted to where staff appear fulfilled. We need to encourage the next generation, not put them off.
  • Stand tall, roll back your shoulders and be confident. You will feel better and others will follow your lead.
  • Be proud of your profession.


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