Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

It's like walking a high wire without a safety net or climbing a rock face without a rope, except that one false move doesn't mean it's curtains. I'm talking about the art of patient care and make no mistake about it, it's definitely an art, and not one that can be learned by attending the medical equivalent of the Art Institute of America. It's kind of like falling in love. You can read all the Harlequin romance novels you want, but sooner or later, you have to take the leap.

My Mom just fwd'ed me this long-lost Family Fe...

Right now, we're in what I'm fond of calling The Family Feud era of medical practice. You've seen the show, right? Two families pair off, the host asks each one the same question that has been posed to a larger population, and the members guess at the answer. When it's time to find out the correct one, he calls out, "Survey says..." The family who arrives at the closest approximation, gets the point, and so on until a winner is decided.

While clinicians don't quite work in the same manner, there is a trend that suggests we should rely on evidence that has been gathered by empirical testing to provide an informed basis for decision-making. There's no doubt this is a valid approach and it is certainly in keeping with the science of medicine. We want to know what research has revealed and whether its results have any applicability in a given situation. But what applies to 500 persons may be irrelevant for one, and becoming competent at the level of the individual is every bit an artistic endeavor.

At it's best, medicine is a dynamic relationship between persons who are genuine with one another. It's unrealistic for me to expect patients to be open and responsive if I come across as opaque and unfeeling. This is not to say I have to wear my personal life on the sleeve of my white coat, but it does no good to pretend I don't have one.

How much to reveal of oneself and when, is something we learn over time. Becoming sensitive to the interpersonal aspects of what we do and growing in our understanding of people takes time. Developing good judgment and knowing intuitively how to rely on it when dealing with the intrinsic complexities of another person takes time. We have to practice, fall on our faces once in a while, get up and try again because that's how we become artists and practice, as they say, makes perfect.


(Creative Commons Image by dpstyles™ via Flickr)

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