How can medical training encourage more humanistic interactions with patients?

We recently asked our medical student bloggers In what ways do you think medical training could be improved to encourage more humanistic interactions with patients?  Here are their answers:

Jana Christian

Jana Christian,  Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
“Placing an emphasis on getting to know patients as people, as much as possible, is one way to encourage medical trainees to engage in a more humanistic way with patients.  As a first year medical student at Columbia, I have been able to shadow in the hospital despite my lack of in-depth training in clinical medicine.  In these settings, my main task as a first year has not been to learn clinical medicine (although that happens too!), but instead to engage with patients as they await surgery or a doctor’s visit and to attempt to see the experience from the perspective of a patient.  The goal is to have a conversation as people – not medical student and patient, and if this goal were to be re-introduced and emphasized throughout medical training, it could forge a path towards more humanistic interactions in patient care. ”

J. Chika Morah, University of Toledo College of Medicine in OhioJay Chika Morah
“All pre-clinical medical students should be able to work with real patients who have real problems. During the first two years of medical school, students examine standardized patients, but there is often a focus on robotically covering what is on the checklist, in order to maximize their grade. Medical training should include visitations from real patients so that students can fully understand what they are learning beyond the textbook. This would reinforce lecture material, show students how to most effectively deal with these patients, and most importantly, ignite the compassion and empathy that is necessary to be a great physician.”

Eduardo Salazar, The University of Arizona College of Medicine – PhoenixEduardo Salazar
“To place a greater emphasis on humanism in medical training, patient interactions must occur earlier in training. I am grateful that UACOM-Phoenix, first-year students have the opportunity to see real patients with physician preceptors at their offices. By discussing heart disease, diabetes, or dementia with families who are actually affected by these diagnoses, I gain an appreciation for the profound impact that these conditions and others have on the lives of entire families. It reminds me that when I speak to patients, there are always other people down the line to whom the news is carried.”


Natalie Sous, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
When I was applying to medical school I looked for places that encouraged students to get involved with the local community. So much of our education is spent in lecture, or with textbooks, yet we can’t treat our patients if we don’t understand the obstacles they face. Schools that are committed to service learning help students see things from the patient’s perspective, which is a very important part of our education.”

Natalie Strokes

Natalie Strokes, A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona

“I think that medical training should include more emphasis on interacting with the community and assessing the needs that are most pertinent to our future patients. Understanding what is lacking in the community can create awareness to where our patients are coming from as well as create a joint volunteer project to interact with them not only as future physicians but also as concerned citizens. These needs could be as simple as diabetes education or creating a green space for outdoor activities. Often patients are intimidated to talk to physicians, so creating a bond within the community is a way to build a positive relationship that includes trust and common goals for a healthier lifestyle.”

Other questions our medical student bloggers have answered: