Listening is a Skill

I recently read this excerpt in a publication for physicians:

“A 2016 study suggested that patients of female physicians have superior outcomes. The publication of that finding prompted much speculation about why it might be so: perhaps women are more intuitive, more empathic, more attentive to detail, better listeners, or even kinder? I don’t know whether any of those generalizations are true, but my personal experience and observations make me sure of this: when women do possess these positive traits, we tend to discount their significance and may even consider them liabilities. We assume that anyone can be a good listener, be empathic — that these abilities are nothing special and are the least of what we have to offer our patients.”

I recently saw a 2 week old baby with severe belly distention and difficulty passing bowel movements. He had had problems since hours after birth. The nursery staff even did an abdominal x-ray and gave him a suppository, but discharged him home without further work-up. He then saw a colleague of mine with a very busy clinic that I used to work for ~1 week after birth. Parents told the staff there the same thing they told me. At 2 weeks old when I saw him, I could tell his parents were at their wits end. The moment I examined him and heard their story, I knew something was wrong. Reminds me of something one of my most respected professors always repeated, 90% of the diagnosis comes from the history that the patient/parent tells you. The art of medicine is very much founded on the art of listening. It was my pleasure that day to refer this patient and their family to the CHOA Scottish Rite ER so that they could receive life-saving intervention. It is one of my greatest rewards to hear a Mom say to me after hospital discharge, “Thank you for listening.”

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