On Teaching and Practicing Humanism in Medicine
What we try to teach medical students starting in their first years is the importance of a humanistic practice of medicine. For example, we teach that a patient should be considered and treated not as a disease but as a person, a human being who also has a disease. We should consider the patient's feelings and their lives beyond their differential diagnoses or lab test results. Not so long ago, my first year medical students set forth the following humanistic behavior objectives: I present them here as examples.
Treat patients as individuals, not solely as ailments. Treat patients with dignity and never speak with condescension
Pay attention to non-verbal cues and other emotional signs, being empathetic in our communications
Relay information clearly, honestly, yet appropriately to our patients
Put the interests of our patients before our own; maintain respect for the patient’s condition, views, and culture in formulating the best plan of action
Provide equality of treatment to our patients, harboring no negative bias simply on account of gender, sexual orientation, religious preference, ethnicity, mental condition, or socioeconomic status
We hope that the students will continue to remember and practice this teaching as they progress in their careers. Another look at humanism in medicine is the article from the Journal of Supportive Oncology, 2004, volume 2 number 2 titled On Medical Humanism By Celia Engel Bandman. In the article, Anatole Broyard is quoted from his essay, The Patient Examines the Doctor.
Broyard wrote, “Not every patient can be saved, but his illness may be eased by
the way the doctor responds to him—and in responding...the doctor may save
himself.…It may be necessary to give up some of his authority in exchange for his
humanity, but as old family doctors knew, this is not a bad bargain. In learning to talk to his patients, the doctor may talk himself back into loving his work. He has
little to lose and everything to gain by letting the sick man into his heart. If he does, they can share, as few others can, the wonder, terror, and exaltation of being
on the edge of being, between the natural and the supernatural.”
Without naming names, what has been your experience regarding humanistic practices in medicine? ..Maurice.