Medical students are used to being at the bottom of the totem pole. However, there is one area in which they surpass residents and attending physicians: the art of communication.
Unfortunately, as you gain training and experience in medicine, your communication skills may worsen. Although there are obvious reasons why this occurs (eg, time constraints curtail communication), the trend can be stopped.
The ability to communicate well is not innate. Think of communication as another procedure you must learn in medical school, perhaps one of the most important in the long run — given that most of what you do is talk to patients.
Research shows that the patients of physicians who communicate well are more adherent to therapies, more satisfied with care, and less likely to file malpractice suits. Just like you need to learn how to diagnose strep throat, you need to learn how to communicate effectively.
How well we learn communication depends on how it’s taught. Few of us learn well when we sit in lecture halls and listen to didactic presentations. “And before you tell the patient the bad news, ask the patient what she knows first…” The main problem with this format is that none of the information is individualized to the learner. It is easy for the learner to see the technique and think, “I already do that, so I don’t need to improve,” or “I don’t do that with my patients, so this is not relevant to me.”