Reflection and compassion go hand-in-hand

Kimberly Manning, MD, Lisa Bernstein, MD, and William Branch, MD, leading the way

Kimberly Manning, MD, an internist at Grady Memorial Hospital who directs Emory’s Transitional Year Residency Program, asks her residents to write about an experience – good or bad – that made a lasting impression on them.

Manning herself regularly writes about her experiences as a doctor. She calls it “habitual reflection” and believes that the practice is vital to developing good doctors. She regularly asks herself about interactions with patients and imagines herself in their place. What was the patient feeling? How would I feel in the same situation? Did the patient process everything I said?

These are the kinds of questions she wants medical students and residents to ask themselves regularly. By examining experiences that were rewarding, saddening or even frustrating, they can become better doctors, she says in the new issue of Emory Medicine magazine.

Previously, doctors were encouraged to be compassionate but to keep emotional distance from their patients. Today, some medical schools, like Emory’s, are stepping beyond teaching traditional doctor-patient communication and putting students more in touch with the feelings and experiences of patients.

With the help of their faculty advisers, Emory medical students learn how to break bad news in a caring manner, to listen effectively, and to perceive and acknowledge the patient’s feelings. They learn to read patients’ body language and to be aware of how their own body language influences patients’ perceptions.

Learning and teaching humanistic behavior has been immensely rewarding, she says. “I thought I was caring before, but the training made everyday experiences richer,” Manning says. “It makes you better at everything.”

Read more about Emory doctors’ experiences – such as Lisa Bernstein, MD, and William Branch, MD – and the positive impact this reflective practice has on doctor-patient relationships.

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