Should Doctors take interpersonal and cross-cultural communication classes?

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Don’t get me wrong… doctors are probably one of the smartest folks out there, but they seldom lack sensitivity, empathy and cultural awareness when it comes to dealing with patients coming from different backgrounds. As a medical interpreter, I have witnessed a myriad of situations where I had to ‘sugar code’ the often blatant diagnosis coming from these ‘geniuses’. At times, I have felt the urge to change “We have ran out of options, we are gonna have to let you go”, to “I am sorry, we have done everything within our power and tried our best but unfortunately there is nothing else we can do” or adjusted “Take this Oxycodone for pain, every six hours as needed”, into “Take this narcotic as needed for pain, but keep in mind is very strong and might make you feel overly drowsy. If the pain is mild just stick to Tylenol or Ibuprofen”.

I have also seen many of those who have absolutely no social skills, become often consumed by their awkward demeanor in the middle of critical situation. Ultimately making the patients even more nervous during their life-changing treatments.

If treating the sick and caring for the ill is the quintessential duty for all medical providers; shouldn’t they also be academically instructed in how to best deal with a fellow human being from a social perspective? Don’t you think there should be an entire semester focused solely on how to appease, communicate and navigate the interpersonal vicissitudes of the human condition? At the end of the day; giving medicine and operating on humans is useless if there is no actual feel nor empathy for the inner suffering that the patient might be going through…sometimes this ailments are caused by their own self-inflicted stress or anxious behaviors. So wouldn’t it make more sense for a provider to alleviate these factors as well?

These are all questions that I ask myself every time I hear:

“What’s wrong with you, you look tired”, “The risks include nerve damage, stroke, death, etc”, “I don’t think this is going to work, is going to be pointless”….

But not all doctors are insensitive nor fall within this bracket. There are many of those whose life mission has always been to holistically care for human beings…and also happen to be great communicators. Is just that sometimes; prestige, money and knowledge tends to be the driving factors for many who end up forgetting the underlying purpose for studying medicine in the first place.


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