Patients ask me all the time for recommendations for family practice doctors, internists, orthopedics, and general surgeons. It’s tough for me to single out one specific physician because there are so many good ones and not so good ones that I have met and worked with over the last 34 years. I have to really mentally exclude the ones I wouldn’t use and select competent, conscientious ones for all my patients’ requests. But it got me to thinking, what makes a good doctor? Obviously, competency is paramount as well as conscientiousness; but it probably is more basic than that-its what I call the study of attention. Indeed, life has often been called the study of attention, and generally, your attention revolves around what you care about the most; in this particular case-the patient. Distractions abound in a busy, frenetic practice and the ability to filter out the myriad distractions and concentrate soley on the patient’s concerns and fears without diversion and distraction is the key. Of course, empathy and experience helps a lot, but the simple act of listening attentively and understandingly is not as easy as it seems. Don’t you hate it when people end your sentences for you, or worse, interrupt the flow of conversation-thinking what to say before you finish! This is a sure sign of egotism and narcissism-it lacks caring and compassion. Time is precious, so listening always builds trust in such an important relationship as a physician-patient encounter. Empathy, sympathy, and compassion along with a good dose of judgment and wisdom goes a long way to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can receive from my patients (and I do hear this practically everyday) is the statement “I trust you”. This tells me that I am doing the right thing and a good job. This relationship is sacrosanct and enjoyable-not to be taken lightly or carelessly, because without it, not much will happen to improve the suffering and sickness that is all too present in our daily lives.
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