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‘Physician, heal thyself...’

Attitudes and Habits of Highly Humanistic Physicians Chou CM et al: Academic Medicine 2014; Vol. 89(9):1252-1257.

Reviewed by Lavjay Butani

What was the study question?
What are the attitudes and habits that highly humanistic physicians perceive as helping them sustain their own humanistic practices?

How was the study done?
Internal medicine residents at the University of Pennsylvania were asked to identify attending physicians who exemplified humanistic patient care. A semi-structured script was used to interview identified physicians until saturation of themes was noted (this occurred after 16 interviews).

What were the results?

Attitudes that help sustain humanisminclude

  1. humility,
  2. curiosity,
  3. a desire to practice a standard of behavior.
  4. recognizing the importance of humanism in improving the medical aspects of patient care,
  5. importance for the physician, and
  6. realizing the patients are more than just a disease.

Habits that humanistic physicians practiced to sustain humanism were self-reflection, seeking connections with patients, teaching/role modeling humanism, work-life balance (self-care), and mindfulness.

What are the implications of these findings?
Like any other ‘behavior’, humanistic practices can be taught and learned and require acquisition of the component knowledge, skills and attitudes. Moreover, a supportive environment and deliberate practice of such are key in internalizing and sustaining such core behaviors. Physicians in this study also felt that practicing humanism was an ‘antidote’ to burnout This is yet another call to arms for us to redouble our efforts as educators to emphasize the practice and explicit role modeling of humanism during our work with learners and not just focus on ‘biomedical’ aspects of care, especially since the ‘biomedical’ care that is provided to patients is further improved by being humanistic practice.


Editor’s note: As the authors note, “We hoped to identify modifiable attitudes and habits that can be taught and disseminated, with the eventual purpose of informing programs for teaching faculty on sustaining humanism in medical education and patient care.”(RR).

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