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Back to school: Doctors who train doctors learn compassion

January 24, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Doc1Over the last decade or two, people have become increasingly disenchanted with their relationships with their doctors. And doctors are ever more dissatisfied with their professions. But a few pioneering medical schools are attempting to rewrite medical education and produce doctors who love their jobs and patients who love their doctors.

A study released this week in the journal Academic Medicine profiles a program at Indiana University as well as four other U.S. medical schools that sought to teach faculty members a different way of instructing medical students. The curriculum emphasized the human dimensions of care, such as the need to communicate effectively, show compassion and build strong relationships. Students rated their professors who used the curriculum, and those ratings were compared to faculty from medical schools that didn't use the program. Students of faculty who were trained in the humanistic model of medicine rated their professors higher in how they demonstrated this type of care, communicated with patients and each other, inspired students and several other measures.

"In the past, medical education has really focused on a punishment model. In principle, you could never do things right," said one of the authors of the study, Richard Frankel, a professor of medicine and geriatrics at Indiana University. "This focuses on the positive."

Besides Indiana University, the medical schools that participated in the study were Emory University, University of Rochester, Baylor College and the University of Minnesota.

Five years ago, Indiana University changed its medical school to emphasize "relationship-centered care," Frankel said. "The whole idea is that if you invest in developing positive relationships between faculty, students and residents, those relationships will transfer to how care is delivered. We've seen a lot of big changes in our medical school as a consequence of this initiative."

For example, young people want to study there. While most medical-school growth has been around 6% to 8% per year in recent years, Indiana University's applications are up 100%. As many as one-quarter of all U.S. medical schools have sent a representative to the school to see the program in action. Clearly, the doctors there are happier. But the ultimate goal, Frankel said, is "to make medicine better for the patient."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times