It is gratifying that medical schools are finally waking up to the value of interpersonal relationships and the ability of physicians to read the social and emotional cues of their patients.
I have never understood the old expression "he's got a bad bedside manner but is a great doctor". I have always felt that these were mutually exclusive traits.
A good physician must understand the emotional and personality traits of their patients. They must be able to intuit when someone is under emotional stress, when they are pretending to be OK when they are not, when their anger is hiding a deep emotional wound.
I have railed against the traditional methods by which a student becomes a doctor. The emphasis on grades, board scores at the expense of personal skills and compassion have always frustrated me.
Now there appears to be a serious movement among medical schools to attract students who understand the empathic connection required to practice medicine. There is also a new emphasis on coordinated medical care with a group approach to healing.
The article in the NYTimes by Garner Harris speaks to this new development http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/health/policy/11docs.html?_r=1&ref=health.
It is entirely welcome.
But what must not be sacrificed in this desire to encourage the empathic touch is the hard training and hours of study in which the academic side to medical education is not forgotten.
Just as a "brilliant" but uncaring physician should not be considered a role model, the overly sensitive and caring but uninformed physician should not be as well.
Once again what we should seek in our prospective physicians is that elusive balance–knowledge and compassion, skills with caring.
It is what makes medicine the art that it is.