Sunday, February 9, 2014

Doctors should learn how to tell stories better

Throughout the week, I’ve had quite a few doctor visits and throughout I realized an interesting thing, everyone in every profession should really learn how to tell a story. In my case, I was given a story that worried me, made me and my wife panic although luckily turned out for the better.

Like this, I’ve heard several cases where people insist that doctors have forgotten how to talk to people. There’s such a thing as having tact and there’s such a thing as being humane. From what I’ve seen, it seems doctors in general lack in both even if they have an abundance of knowledge and experience.

Honestly, during the last few days I lost count of how many people told me they had outlived their prognosis. I also lost count of how many people told me how much it annoyed them that their doctors just spat out information. In one case one doctor even told a patient while chuckling: “Well you shouldn’t last the year, but you know how these things go.”

Taking into account my experience and what people have told me, I think it pertinent that doctors be given a storytelling class to learn how to give news. I’m sure it’s a draining job and that after many years you become numb to it, granted. The thing is that patients aren’t numb... ever; actually, they’re often hyper sensitive.

Some time ago I was actually able to talk to some doctors about this and they gave me the flipside. They told me of patients who exaggerate claims, who whine about everything and who need to be spoken to firmly to get them to respond. Still, most of them admitted that a lot of colleagues often just spit out information with no consideration for the patient or their family. They like to give the facts straight. “Sugar coating is for pills,” one of them said. Some also admitted that doctors were often pessimistic in their prognoses for numerous reasons, and one was so that patients didn’t get their hopes up.

That last statement shocked me because last I checked, hope can extend your life by years. My dad beat his prognosis by 5 and a half years and I’ve recently met a long line of patients who have outlived even the best-case scenarios because of hope, because they’re stubborn and because they want to live, not to mention they want to prove a doctor wrong.

So I ask myself, what would happen if a doctor knew how to give news in a nicer way? What would happen if prognoses were given to instill hope rather than kill it... would people live longer?  Would they be happier? Would their stories have better endings?

I’d like to think so. 


  1. This is so true ! My parents have been fighting cancer for the last 16 years. We've encountered the best and the worst of bedside manners and have always managed by sheer force of will to come out of it with hope intact. I truly believe that being positive and holding onto hope is the reason they are still living to fight another day. Medicine is a caring profession and Doctors should never lose sight of that.

  2. My best to your parents and I'm sure you've found quite the variety of people. Bless their force of will and being stubborn in the best way possible. Hope trumps science way too often to ignore. I agree doctors provide invaluable services... still, their people skills are often lacking.