COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR SURGEONS

n the twenty-first century, the importance of communication can not be over emphasized. Communication is one of the commonest things people do. It is like eating and drinking, breathing and walking. Everyone can do it, has to do it, irrespective of age, sex, educational and financial status.

Good quality communication is supposed to be essential for politicians, leaders of religious sects , advocates, teachers, marketing executives  and for that matter for all those who are involved in public affairs.; but it is equally important for doctors and more so for the surgeons.  A patient offers himself or herself to the surgeon without any reservation. In the present era of awareness and shopping, particularly in the private sector, in addition to the known surgical skill, a surgeon’s communication skill is very important to give confidence to the patient.

We, the professional people, take for granted that our ability to communicate is  very good and we neither try to analyze it nor improve it. Scores of instances may be remembered by each one of us when serious misunderstanding has been brought about because of defective communication, and both the communicator and   communicatee  ( the person at the  receiving end ) blaming each other.

Symbols of Communication :

These are Verbal as well as Non-verbal:

  1. Verbal Symbols:   These are the words we speak or write. What a word or a sentence ( group of words ) really means for an individual depends on several factors including his knowledge, background, personal experience, the mood he is in etc. Most of the sentences can be interpreted in more than one ways. Misunderstanding is inevitable because of the mismatch between the symbols displayed and the symbols received. One can appreciate the little difference in the pronunciation of the words –Bent, Dent, Lent, Rent, Sent, Tent, Went etc and the misunderstanding these can create.Proficiency in the language being used does not guarantee excellence in communication as verbal language is but a minor component for sending and receiving messages. But one should always remember that words are like bullets, once fired they can not be retrieved and damage can be lessened but can not be totally undone.
  2. Non-Verbal Symbols:  These are of wide range and their meanings vary    significantly across cultures. For surgeons the non-verbal symbols are very important as these depict their professionalism, culture, etiquette. Some of the commonly employed non-verbal symbols are:
  1. Clothes and their Accessories:  The clothes you put on , the accessories you use, the perfume you wear can all be a part of non-verbal symbols you display deliberately or unwillingly.
  2. Gestures
  3. Postures
  4. Eye contact
  5. Facial Expression communicates emotions like anger, love, hate, fear, lust, pleasure, anxiety, nervousness etc.
  6. Touch: This is a tricky set of symbols. A  surgeon has to be very careful when examining a patient, more so a female patient; which part he is touching, for how long and how , all these communicate  and interpretation may be different depending upon the cultures.Touch conveys a lot and I usually put a warm hand on the forehead of my patient whenever I feel that the patient is nervous or apprehensive ; and I feel it gives lot of solace and confidence to the patient.

Factors Affecting our Communication:

There are many factors that block our communication and make it slow or    ineffective, the major ones being:

  • Differences in perspective
  • Differences in knowledge levels
  • Lack of common language
  • Tendency to jump to conclusions
  • Strong emotions
  • Self Centeredness
  • Laziness

Factors Facilitating our Communication :

There are many factors which can improve our skills of communication:

  • Selection of proper medium- there are three mediums of communication- spoken, written, non-verbal
  • Selection of proper Channel of communication
  • Create friendly atmosphere , do not try to impose
  • Talk less and listen more
  • Mind your tone and volume of your voice
  • Use language that can be easily understood by the listener
  • Do not use vague and ambiguous words, speak clearly and not in roundabout way
  • Use words that can be understood and grasped by your listener, do not try to  impress him with high flown technical words like Gene, clone, molecular biology, chromosomal abnormalities etc.

A surgeon has to  communicate  with :

  • Patient & his relations
  • Colleagues
  • Senior and Junior coworkers
  • Public
  • Media persons
  • With members of his own Family
  • And he has to keep this constantly in his mind, has to modify his level of communication and all the previously mentioned factors as per requirements of the occasion.

A patient requires :

  • Encouragement
  • Sympathy
  • Understanding
  • Knowledge
  • Love & Affection
  • Solace
  • Comfort- Physical &  Psychological

It should be clearly remembered for all time to come that a patient hands over his or her body to us in spite of the threats of mutilation and disfigurement, pain and agony, monetary loss etc and his decision of selection of a surgeon depends upon his satisfaction gathered during consultation and here communication skill plays a pivotal role.