For years, a doctor’s people skills were overlooked if the doctor was knowledgeable and skilled. The patient was very often treated as a thing to be diagnosed rather than a complex human person. Medical school training reflected this bias. Now, that appears to be changing.
What started at Johns Hopkins two years ago has been replicated in other medical schools, the latest of which includes the University of South Florida. “You had a diagnosis — breast cancer, diabetes, sepsis or asthma — whatever it was, it was focused on understanding the underlying science of the disease, not of the person with the disease,” said Dr. David Nichols, vice dean for education at Hopkins. “That’s where we are taking this now.”
Given the complexity of illness and disease and the necessity of teamwork, a multi-disciplinary approach that emphasizes a holistic approach is long overdue. The primary beneficiary of course will be the patient. This relatively new approach was foreshadowed in the 1991 movie The Doctor in which William Hurt portrays an egotistical, successful surgeon who has no time for patients until he himself is stricken with throat cancer.
While Johns Hopkins has provided the impetus for the paradigm shift, many of the actual programs will be designed at the local level. This may include videotaped sessions of interns speaking with patients and doctors following up with patients after they are discharged from the hospital.
For too long, many doctors believed they had to keep a professional distance from their patients in order to remain objective and function properly. Now, many new physicians will be trained to engage the patient as a person and not a disease. In my opinion, this can only improve the quality of healthcare. Some medical schools agree.
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