Caring for hospital
patients

As a UK medical student, then a medical educator in Ireland and the UK from 1976 to 2006, I witnessed patient-centred concerns, such as communication skills and acknowledging the patient’s point of view, inreasingly emphasised on undergraduate medical courses.

As a UK medical student, then a medical educator in Ireland and the UK from 1976 to 2006, I witnessed patient-centred concerns, such as communication skills and acknowledging the patient’s point of view, inreasingly emphasised on undergraduate medical courses.

As time went on, a balance was struck between knowledge of science essential for diagnosis and treatment, and the other ‘softer’ concerns of feelings and attitudes that help us to imagine what it’s like to stand in someone else’s shoes.

I don’t know what has changed in the seven years since I left that career, though it may be that this balance has been upset by process-driven educationalists.

From where I now stand I hear that some patients and their relatives claim they are not told things that matter to them.

This could be because they don’t remember what is said to them, that professionals are so busy that they can’t imagine how forlorn it feels to be a patient, that the prospect of litigation means that professionals won’t say anything until technology has provided evidence.

It could be that some doctors have been educated in medical schools where, for whatever reason, patient-centred concerns are not valued as they are 
here.

It could be that there is something that encourages doctors to think of themselves as set-apart, different from ordinary mortals.

Many patients seem to want their doctors to be god-like and omnipotent, and yet complain when they act accordingly.

The parallels with my present occupation are obvious.

“White coat ceremonies” and graduations in medical schools, and the speeches made at them, are mystical ordinations and sermons by other names.

Medical professionals are human like the rest of us.

We do ourselves no service by expecting otherwise.

We do ourselves no serivce by refusing to accept that death is inevitable.

I had a parishioner who was delighted - and yes - that is the right word - when the doctors told her there was nothing more that could be done.

“At last’, she said, “someone has been honest with me.”

n Revd Dr Stanley Monhouse went to university in Cambridge and medical school in London.

He taught anatomy in medical schools in Nottingham, Dublin (Royal College of Surgeons 1988-2003) and Derby.