How Medical Students Can Prepare For The Importance of Interpersonal Communication Skills During Clinicals

Interpersonal Communication Med Students

The study time and schoolwork that goes into prospective students becoming medical professionals is no joke. And while no patient wants to be taken care of by a doctor or nurse whose human anatomy knowledge is only subpar, or doesn’t know what’s in the medication they are administering, it’s important to remember that scientific knowledge, as vitally important as it is, is only one component of the healthcare profession.

Many might argue that the human aspect of caregiving, using interpersonal skills to foster positive patient interactions, is even more important when it comes to providing quality healthcare. NHS Junior Doctor Ben Janaway explains, “communication is a cornerstone of modern medicine, where understanding and context-driven consultation lead the way in improved patient experience.

Yet many medical students are often shocked when they realize the importance of their interpersonal communication skills when it’s finally time to work one-on-one with real patients during clinical rotations. Where book-smarts and diligent study skills may have gotten them the grades in the classroom, factual knowledge is no longer the major factor when it comes to succeeding in the medical setting.

According to Janaway, “The application of our new scientific knowledge is no more important than the tools needed to communicate it. The same way as a doctor’s knowledge is no more useful to a patient than what the patient can understand.

While this is true, effective and quality patient interaction goes much deeper than conveying medical information in colloquial terms. It requires empathy, patience, good listening skills, confidence, compassion, and kindness in general in order to make a true impact on the lives of patients. And there’s no better time for med students to develop these skills necessary for the healthcare profession than during clinical trials.

Communicating during clinicals

Especially in fast-paced locales such as hospitals, efficiency in delivering care can sometimes overshadow empathy for patients. During clinicals, med students should observe all of their surroundings, bit just the actions of the doctors they are shadowing.

Take the time to talk with patients, to get insight on their own experience.

Ask them about their condition.

Offer condolences for their worries and concerns.

Chat with them about their interests.

Even the simplest greeting and small talk can shows that you care about them and recognize them as a person, as well as a medical patient.

Take the initiative to speak up for patients as well; be their voice. This can be difficult for medical students who still don’t have a lot of experience at this point. But it’s important to have confidence in the medical knowledge you do have. And in talking with patients, you may gain insight on personal medical factors the doctor is not aware of.

Don’t be afraid to look foolish. “Let your passion for the field of medicine, rather than fear, drive you.” If your gut tells you, speak up on the patient’s behalf. It could save their life.  

An article from the blog Residency Secrets sums it up perfectly: “… it’s not the system or your fellow physician who determine your value; it’s you. The extent to which you’re willing to be humble and ask questions, be brave and offer your opinion, and take the extra initiative to help, will determine what you, physicians, and patients will get out of your presence.”

You’ll likely find that interacting with patients on a personal level adds to your own personal experience and reinforces your drive to work in medicine. In fact, many providers cite the personal side of healthcare, the human interactions, as the primary reason they entered the profession in the first place.

Samantha Hendricks
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