10 July 2006

Opening up communication with doctors.

We were pleased to hear about the “new wave of students upon whom educators have pinned their hopes for a generation of communicative, motivated and engaged doctors” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/7/2006). After our critique (see blog ‘Doctoring language’ 16/9/2005) of doctors who practice what we referred to as ‘ethnocentric’ communication; a view of the world where members of their own group [other medical and related health care practitioners] are valued and understood, while nonnatives/others [patients] are as seen as “fundamentally different and therefore deserving of different treatment” (Grimes & Richard 2003).

While University of NSW Professor Rakesh Kumar points out that the new entrance interview procedures have produced “students who are much more willing to get engaged in the learning process” and according to Newcastle University research, students who are “more likely to perform well”, DIFFUSION would like to know if communication (as a professional practice) is an integral part of the course?

It is commendable that, as Professor Tiller states, the interview procedures gauge if “they (the students) have an ethical background… they (can) decide what's honest and dishonest", here at DIFFUSION we know that being an effective communicator is much more complex than this.

And we're sure that if you asked the majority of doctors if they practiced their profession without prejudice, they would say resoundingly ‘yes’. Yet, as we have pointed out, ethnocentric communication is much more complex than this…it acts to keep others [patients] behaviour predictable (and safe) through the use of simplified scripts. As a result, we often feel ‘spoken down to’ or ‘discriminated against’ when visiting our local GP. Often without realising, doctors make a pre-judgement about their patients, based on the learned doctor/patient societal roles. It is these roles and related communication that needs to be challenged.

Here’s hoping that the new breed of doctors take their communication as seriously as their Hippocratic Oath.