10 things that doctors admire about their patients

March 20, 2013 Julie Thomas, MD

two businesspeople giving eachother a high-five


In this article:

  • Treating patients isn’t all about listening to complaints and suggesting solutions.

  • Humor, faith, and concern — on both sides — can go a long way toward a positive doctor-patient relationship.

  • A Swedish physician shares a list of some of the characteristics she particularly cherishes in her patients.

Instead of only focusing on what patients need to do to improve their health, let's look at what they contribute. Here are 10 things that physicians love about their patients:

1. Their preparedness. One might think that doctors cringe when patients pull out “the list” of their concerns and questions. On the contrary: this adds great efficiency and still helps us to be complete in what we do. The last thing a doctor wants is for a patient to go home and worry about something they forgot to ask us.

2. Their self-discipline. I have seen many patients shed pounds, shake off cigarettes, trim down on alcohol consumption and put on those sneakers day after day. If I’m honest, I’d say that I myself exercise just so I can look these inspiring individuals in the eyes when we talk about fitness.

3. Their knowledge. I don’t always know the “latest and greatest” developments in medicine. My patients are well-informed, and it's not uncommon for them to alert me to something I need to research or bone up on. They are “iron sharpening iron.”

4. Their faith. Many of my patients have personal beliefs and stories that go beyond the physical world we live in. I find these interesting and rewarding to listen to.

5. Their life stories. I wish I had hours and hours just to hear these in full. But even snippets of my patient’s experiences abroad, childhood adventures and career paths keep me learning and help me to appreciate them as the unique individuals they are.

6. Their understanding. One of the great challenges for physicians like us, who are “compulsively thorough people-persons,” is sticking to the time allotted for a patient visit. This is probably my least favorite thing about being a primary care physician. But I can’t tell you what a relief it is when my patients have patience with me.

7. Their extended families/friends. Some of the most inspiring relationships I’ve seen have been between my patients and their relatives or friends. I see them coming to visits, “dropping in” to check on my patients, sorting medicines into pill boxes and letting me know when things “aren’t quite right.”

8. Their concern. It’s my responsibility to be concerned about my patient’s welfare. But again and again I feel their concern for me, my kids, my vacations and even my ability to take a lunch break. If I might be flagging, this encourages me to keep going.

9. Their progress. Maybe this reveals me as a “science nerd,” but when I see that blood pressure go down, that cough eased, that cholesterol drop — it makes my day.

10. Their humor. Life can be tough — for doctors and patients alike. Sometimes it’s that joke, that quip, that smile, that relieves the strain of the moment and helps us both move forward with more joy.

Ed. note: A version of this blog appeared in the Mercer Island Reporter.

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