Tip of the week: Teaching communication skills requires role models

Residency Program Insider, March 21, 2013

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Francis Peabody recognized the importance of interpersonal skills and communication in the care of patients. In 1927 he wrote, “The treatment of a disease may be entirely impersonal; the care of a patient must be completely personal. The significance of the intimate personal relationship between physician and patient cannot be too strongly emphasized, for in an extraordinarily large number of cases both diagnosis and treatment are directly dependent on it, and the failure of the young physician to establish this relationship accounts for much of his ineffectiveness in the care of patients.”

Educating residents on proper and effective communication skills is widely recognized as overdue. Surveys of physician communication skills show that physicians have poor listening skills, interrupt patients, and use medical terms that patients do not understand.

Although the importance of good physician communication skills is apparent, determining how to teach these skills remains problematic. Lectures, role-playing, and reviewing videos of physician-patient interaction can be helpful, but remember that the attitudes and communication skills of your faculty members are crucial aspects of teaching good communication and interpersonal skills. Your faculty members need to be positive role models—they need to model acceptable physician-patient relationships and should never pressure a resident to compromise his or her morals to fit in with the resident team.

This tip is from The Residency Program Director’s Handbook, by Robert V. Higgins, MD.

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