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August 6, 1982

The Physician as Communicator

JAMA. 1982;248(5):587-589. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330050069037

FOUR YEARS ago, I accepted an invitation to teach literature and philosophy to medical students and to study problems in patient-physician relationships from the standpoint of patients. I also wanted to pursue research in a field of deep interest to me, the biochemistry of the emotions.

I thought I would have to brace myself for all the shocks that go with a new career, but I quickly discovered that physicians and writers have at least one thing in common: communication is an important part of their trade. In journalism, you live or die by your ability to use words. In health care, the words used by the physician have a profound effect on the well-being of the patient. Words used by the physician can be gate-openers or gate-slammers. They can open the way to recovery, or they can make a patient dependent, tremulous, fearful, or resistant. The right words can