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The Art of Connecting With Patients - Part 1

Updated: Mar 14

There are certain chapters in life where you feel a sense of accomplishment when learning new things. This chapter in life mainly involves being in school and sitting while we listen to those who are experts in certain classes. It’s thrilling to learn new things, especially things you feel strongly or are passionate about. My passion was always sports (mainly combat sports) and health/fitness. I eventually blended these together leading me to where I am today. But there is an art to gaining a patient's trust. Just like any work in healthcare, it requires stripping down a bit of yourself to connect with the patient. It forces you to uncover the real you, because patients (and people in general) connect fully when authenticity is involved. Are you actually listening to the patient in front of you? Are you being present with them? Or are you distracted? Are you caring more about how you look/feel or how to interject some PT knowledge into their story?

There is a later phase in life, one where you unlearn things and it becomes just as thrilling to discard previous beliefs that no longer serve you. Physical therapy school is filled with countless lessons on anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, etc. that will hopefully make you a well rounded clinician. After some time, you begin to realize how to better convey your knowledge and disregard “overthinking” the patient. If anything, it’s more so “information overload” and refraining from giving the patient an impromptu presentation on pain science (for instance) and why tissue damage does not equal pain.

The people we help are in pain, they want to feel better. They aren’t a diagnosis or a robot. They need help and reassurance that they will get through their injury or overcome whatever pain they are in. Giving a "lecture" to the patient or possibly scaring them with unnecessary information will not help ease their worry. If you want to explain a topic relative to what they are feeling, make sure to listen first. And ACTUALLY LISTEN, be present with them. Afterwards, give them a nice and simple explanation of what is going on, how you can help and finally game plan with them. In other words, I learned how to better listen and explain things concisely disregarding much of the finer details. The finer details oftentimes being things that will only worry the patient further. Always remember that words and how you say things are powerful. Knowledge given to the patient isn't power when said inauthentically or when missing the big picture.

Of course this isn't always true, some people want more information and they want it conveyed in a logical/analytical sense. But generally people want to be listened to, given a concise explanation of what’s going on and some treatment. Too often I see clinicians feeling the need to demonstrate what they know to the patient. I was guilty of this as well, armed with the knowledge of all things anatomy and rehab science, doing my best to avoid the dreaded impostor syndrome. It was just an overcompensation of not feeling enough.

But you are enough, just like with life, the more time passes, you begin to simplify your life and discard beliefs that no longer serve you. Working in healthcare, I began to lessen my “lecturing” to patients and began to listen more and give input when needed. I disregarded the feeling of needing to bombard the patient with information to show how much knowledge I have. This applies with life in general, it's important to unlearn behaviors rather than always gaining new knowledge, that’s where you begin to truly develop your authentic self. There is an art to connecting with people and it is crucial to learn especially when working in healthcare. More on this at a later time.

Talk soon,

Dr. G


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