Participants of the Patient/Doctor Communication: Side by Side at SHARE were invited again to the New York Medical College in Valhalla yesterday, where we talked to doctors and medical students about our experiences as cancer patients. There were seven participants who each spoke with a group of students. Our goal was to discuss positive and negative communication experiences focusing on patient preferred ways of being told bad news.
Lee Miller and I, who run Side-by-Side, along with a group of SHARE volunteers and staff (pictured above) talked to over 90 students about what it's like to be a cancer patient. We opened the discussion with the history of our cancer diagnosis and told them stories about our own doctors. We explained how positive doctor/patient relationships can make a cancer experience so much more manageable, and how poor communication can make the experience unnecessarily difficult. Especially when talking to students, we want to let them know what we go through as patients so they can learn how to communicate in a way that helps them treat the whole person, not just the illness. We also talked about how valuable SHARE was to each of us in our recovery.
Talking to the students yesterday, I was thinking about the value of this kind of education. Medical students are so inundated with information, facts, data and new skills to learn that it's hard to imagine how they'll process it all. But I got the sense from our time together that not only were they deeply interested in learning from us, but they'd likely look back on this experience in years to come and remember what we told them.
One final thing. Every student wanted to know the answer to this question:
What's the single most important thing we should know as doctors?
Here are some of the answers we gave to our groups:
Lee: My answer is two-fold. First, "How many of you are becoming doctors to help people?" Every student raised their hand. Second, "Don't forget why you became a doctor."
Linda: "Do unto others..." "Treat patients the way you want to be treated."
Adrienne: "Treat patients how you want your mother or father, wife or husband treated."
Christine: "Do not assume anything about your patient, and DON'T BE A JERK."
Debbie: "Someday you will be responsible for not only how you communicate but how your office staff communicates as well. It's important for you to all be on the same page."
Harriet: "Know your customer."
What would you say if you were asked this question? What's the single most important thing you think your doctor should know?
Christine is the Breast Cancer Program Director at SHARE.