What defines a good doctor? On the basis of sources such as the British Medical Council and interviews with patients it is possible to divide the qualities needed to be a good doctor in to two categories. The first of these categories involves qualities associated with creating a good doctor-patient relationship. The attributes required for this include good communication skills as well as a caring and polite manner towards patients. The second category involves the doctor’s clinical competence and includes factors such as knowing the limits of their professional abilities. A good doctor should be able to show a high aptitude in both of these categories.
A good doctor is one that has a doctor-patient relationship such that the patient feels comfortable whilst staying in hospital. To promote this type of relationship a doctor must have good communication skills. The significance of this ability is emphasized by the B.M.C dictating that the the “duties” of a doctor are to “….listen to patients and give information to patients in a way they can understand.” The importance of good communication skills is two fold. Firstly, it is necessary for a doctor when trying to make a diagnosis to be able to extract information about the patients’ injuries or illness and their clinical history. The importance of this listening ability is closely related to a doctor’s clinical competency and is discussed later.
The second significance of good communication skills is to find out any worries or apprehensions a patient might have. Many patients (including those interviewed during the C.L.S ward visit) feel uncomfortable in hospitals. Consequently, they feel nervous and worried about whatever illness they are suffering from as well as the medical treatment they receive. A good doctor is one that takes the time to listen to the patient’s questions and worries and then tries to answer those questions with the effect that the patient’s worries are relieved. This is a good quality for a doctor to have as it makes the patient feel more comfortable.
However, it should be noted that taking time to explain medical conditions and treatments to patients is becoming increasingly more difficult and time exhausting. This is because the public has become more aware of medical conditions and developments in medicine through the media. Consequently they put greater demands on the doctor’s time by wanting to know more and more details about their condition. The result of this is that it decreases the amount off time doctors have for their other responsibilities and so reduces their professional competency. Thus, a further distinction between a good and bad doctor is that a good doctor is able to satisfy a patient’s needs and curiosity in a time period such that he or she is able to fulfill all their other clinical responsibilities. The ability to do this is founded in good communication skills.
Another characteristic needed by a doctor to maintain a good doctor-patient relationship is (as the B.M.C states ) “to act in a polite and considerate manner.” This might seem like an obvious attribute and one that would be easy to accommodate by both good and bad doctors. However the distinction between the two types of doctor becomes clearer when dealing with a difficult patient. An example of a difficult patient was illustrated on one ward visit with a patient who had been confined in isolation because he had contracted M.R.A.S ( an illness contracted from stating in the hospital). Due to the irony of the situation the patient was clearly frustrated and orally abusive to both doctors and patients. It is easy for a doctor to reflect back some of the hostile by a decrease in the level of care he or she provides for the patient. However, a good doctor must be able to feel empathy for the patient and so try to understand the frustration felt by the patient. Under no situation should a doctor decrease the level of care he or she is providing.
If a caring and sympathetic nature as well as good communication skills were all that were needed to be a good doctor, then there would be no need for medical students to study anatomy or any of the other academic subjects. One of the most important qualities of a good doctor is that he or she is clinically competent. This is best illustrated in that every patient interviewed in the ward visit stated that the most important ability of a doctor is to be able to cure them. This is the sole reason patients come to hospital and thus they judge doctors on their ability to diagnose their illness as well as provide suitable treatment.
Another important attribute of a good doctor related to their professional competence is the ability to realize the limits of their clinical capabilities. A poor doctor is one that has too much confidence in his abilities whereas a good doctor will always rely on a senior colleague/consultant when he or she is in doubt over a particular diagnosis or treatment. This is crucial distinction between a good, responsible doctor and a poor one as it could directly lead to the patient’s life being put to risk.
In conclusion there are a wide range of qualities that define a good doctor which can be divided in two groups of attributes. The first group includes communication skills and the ability to feel empathy for a patient which create a good doctor-patient relationship and so make the patients stay in hospital more comfortable. There are also clinically relevant qualities such as the knowing the limits of one’s clinical competence. A good doctor should be fluent in both types of quality and use them both in conjunction to provide better care for the patient. For example a good doctor should use his communication skills (quality of the first group) to develop a competent diagnosis ( a clinical skill).