MEDICAL SCHOOLS: Focus on Compassion Reemerging
Although some in the medical community fear that the quality of compassion is "perilously close to extinction," a physician's ability to communicate with patients and "feel another's pain" has received renewed focus in recent years, the New York Times reports in a feature that asks, "Can compassion be taught in medical school?" A 1999 survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges found that only 27% of patients value a prestigious medical school education when choosing a physician, while 85% make selections based on communication skills and caring attitude, and 77% seek a physician who is able to explain complicated medical procedures. The results served as a "wake-up call" for the nation's health care industry, and more doctors have recently rejected the notion of the "God-like physician" and "suddenly discovered humility, mortality and goodness," the New York Times notes. Though most medical school administrators agree that "you have to start with students who show signs of caring" to mold the compassionate physician, some schools are taking more concrete steps. At the University of New Mexico, for example, second-year students on pediatric rotations meet with a panel of parents to learn how to deliver "bad news." Meanwhile, some first-year students at Harvard are assigned to terminally ill patients with whom they are expected to develop ongoing relationships, and if the patient dies during the elective course, students are encouraged to attend the funeral and share in the family's grief. Still, the Times questions whether new physicians will be able to "hold on to ideal values" in a health care industry that increasingly pressures providers to see more patients in less time and to focus on the ailment, not the entire person (Langone, 8/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.