Assessing competency and skills in relating and communicating to patients is not a requirement for graduating medical school. Can giving doctors a script for empathy actually make them more empathetic? In a New York Times article on the subject, a doctor comments on taking a course about communicating with patients: “This has really helped me in my practice and has made me much happier at work.” Hopefully, the communication scripts they learn will not only make them sound like they care, but really make them listen and think and respond, not with a script, but with knowledge, compassion, and patience.
This article reminds me of a question I was asked after my presentation at a Grand Rounds for maxillofacial residents at UCSF: “I wanted to develop rapport with my patient. I walked into the room and said, ‘I know this is difficult for you.’ The patient barked at me saying, ‘You have no idea what this is like now get out of here.’ What did I say wrong?”
I replied. “Instead of saying you KNOW this is difficult, say you don’t know what this is like, but if he is willing to share with you his experience, you will be able to use it to help other patients. In this way, you empower patients. You give them a way to feel that their suffering can help others.”
How would you answer his question?