I’ve known I wanted to be a physician for a long time – definitely since middle school, maybe before then! I had my eyes set on medical school from an early age and thought after I graduated, I’d be a paragon of wisdom – able to help anyone with any problem anytime. I mean, that’s what doctors do, right? (HA!)
Going through medical school, one learns about the ins and outs of the human body – genetics, development, biochemical processes both normal and not-so-normal that result in disease, etc. A small part of our education began our first year in a class (somewhat inappropriately) called “Ethics.” I say “inappropriately” because an Ethics course (for medicine, at least) usually deals more with practical aspects of patient care and communication and not just ethical theory. This type of formal education continues through residency training, but it’s still a relatively small portion of the overall educational experience. And it’s quite difficult to actually “teach” these kinds of topics. I dabbled in “ethics education” during my Chief Residency while trying to develop an ethics curriculum for the residents, and I gained a whole new respect for my educators who helped me a ton!
Of course, there’s always on-the-job training: those experiences one has in school and residency (and practice!) that continually reveal the subtleties and importance of good human communication. And I’m not just talking about doctor-to-patient communication! The doctor-patient relationship is a fascinating one for both parties – a true partnership based on trust, mutual respect, and team work when it’s done properly. But just two or more human beings trying to translate their thoughts (that are always wrapped up in prior experience, expectations, fears, motivations, etc.) into words that are properly interpreted by the other party – it’s more difficult than most people imagine. I don’t envy diplomats, politicians, CEOs… And I know from experience that I’ve gotten it wrong many times – with patients and non-patients alike (ask my wife!).
So, there’s knowing the “book stuff” about medicine, and then there’s the need to apply that knowledge in the real world and communicate effectively with all members of the health care team. That whole application/communication stuff is what one learns not in class, but in “practice.” What I love about the blog post I’ve linked to below is that it discusses from BOTH sides (doctor and patient, with an emphasis on the latter) that communication dynamic, with some practical advice for the doctor from a patient! A must read for anyone.