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Teaching medical students how to listen and care

Teaching medical students how to listen and care

In covering the medical education beat for Inside Stanford Medicine, I have increasingly begun to hear about the need for better training of medical students in how to communicate and empathize with patients. It’s a topic that was covered recently in an article in the magazine Remapping Debate titled, “How hard is it for doctors to listen and to care,” which discusses the growing problem of excessive focus on technologies by doctors at the expense of patient communication.

The article mentions Stanford’s new interviewing process that involves multiple-mini-interviews in an attempt to recruit students who are not only academically exceptional, but exceptional at communicating as well.

A story I wrote for today’s issue of Inside Stanford Medicine, focuses on another technique designed to encourage compassion and empathy in medical students by bringing patients into the classroom to talk to students.

Gilbert Chu, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (oncology) at Stanford works hard to coordinate his first year medical school biochemistry lectures so that every year he can bring in at least one or two patients as a teaching tool. Chu, (whose brother happens to be Nobel laureate Steven Chu, PhD, the U.S. Secretary of Energy), invited a 76-year-old patient dying of esophageal cancer into class to discuss his decision not to receive a cutting-edge cancer treatment and, instead, enter hospice care.

The story brings home just how powerful this teaching method can be. As one of the students in the class, David Purger, describes it:

Most of us had never had an experience like that before. We talked to (the patient) about his thoughts about the end of life. What he anticipated would come afterward. We learn so much in school about chronic conditions. About what happens to the body. All that doesn’t take into account at all what the patient’s feelings are. Early on in medical school, there’s just no venue for that

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