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Letter: Bedside manner is a skill every doctor should learn

Bedside manner is a skill every doctor should learn

We graduated medical school at the University at Buffalo in 1973. As we near the end of our clinical careers, it is good to know that at least one incoming medical student knows it’s terrible to give a patient bad news with a Post-it note and feels strongly enough to pen a thought-provoking Viewpoints article. Kudos to Brienne Ryan.

Bedside manner is a learned skill; doctors aren’t born with it. Something never gained cannot be “lost.” Yes, technology and commercialization remove the physician from the personal contacts so important to successful medical practice, but that’s not the whole story.

Over 30 years ago, we were aghast to hear from a colleague whose friend had been told over the phone by his doctor that he had kidney cancer and to call Roswell Park for an appointment. Now medical students are taught to give bad news face-to-face, with role-playing and other tools to get the point across.

We learned by emulating (or choosing not to emulate) our attending physicians and clinical superiors. We hope Ryan will never forget to speak up when she sees gross errors in patient care, and by “care” we mean the personal contact as well as use of our medical skills.

We worry that in this world of health care “consumers” and “providers” that superior role models may be harder to find. In an ideal world, the patients’ personal physicians should care for them in the hospital and outside. In today’s hospital, rounds with computers and physicians unknown to the patient may lack the empathy and compassion required for good care. What can we do? Treat your patients as you would want yourself or family members treated. This was good advice 45 years ago and is still good advice now.

Sharon Kuritzky, M.D.

Paul Kuritzky, M.D.