William T. Branch, Carter Smith, Sr. Professor of Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine, and director of Emory's Division of General Medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital, has received a grant to educate medical faculty in the art of teaching humanistic medicine to medical students and trainees.
This faculty development project, funded by a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vinings Davis Foundations, is designed to teach physicians how to convey to medical students and residents the art of developing compassion and respect for patients and how to address the patients' concerns and values. Physicians also learn to model professional values, as well as how to address the important social, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of patients.
In addition to Emory, four medical schools across the country are participating in the project. The schools are: Indiana University School of Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Dr. Branch, a leading expert on patient-doctor communication and medical education, says the project will mostly be executed on the wards and medical clinics at Grady Hospital. Dr. Branch meets with eight faculty members twice each month to conduct sessions on teaching in ways that promote humanistic learning.
"This project is all about teaching respect for patients, compassion toward suffering, respecting patients' autonomy in decision making, and communicating skillfully," Dr. Branch explains. "It is also about understanding the importance of communicating with patients, as well as the skills used to communicate with patients."
Dr. Branch further states that patient-doctor communication plays a pivotal role in medical care, and that it is essential for medical schools to teach such skills. He believes all physicians can learn to communicate better, and that effective patient communication is a necessary ingredient for being a good doctor.
"If a patient is sick, he or she is put in a very dependent position," Dr. Branch says. "But if a doctor is a good communicator, it shows the patient that the doctor cares about him or her as a person, and not just as a disease. This results in a therapeutic benefit for the patient."
As part of the project, faculty members alternate between learning skills and related knowledge, and reflective exercises that explore the meaning of humanistic medicine. Skills groups used to teach humanistic medicine employ various learning methods that include: standardized patients as subjects for teaching scenarios; developing scenarios for teaching role-modeling; role-playing that creates several types of active learning exercises; efficient teaching of humanistic medicine on rounds or in an office setting; and providing examples of creating or taking advantage of teachable moments.
Once the project is completed, questionnaires provide post-evaluation of the project. The questionnaires will gauge the level of awareness of humanistic teaching among the participants and their students and/or residents as compared to a similar group of students and/or residents who were not taught by faculty in the project.
Dr. Branch says he expects to see improved doctor-patient relationships because of the emphasis on patient communication.
"Doctors get more personal rewards because they develop better relationships with patients," Dr. Branch says. "We think if doctors are feeling more rewarded in their practices, they'll take better care of their patients and function better as professionals."