The doctor–patient relationship: from undergraduate assumptions to pre-registration reality

Williams, Clare, Cantillon, Peter and Cochrane, Mac (2001) The doctor–patient relationship: from undergraduate assumptions to pre-registration reality. Medical education, 35 (8). 743–747.


OBJECTIVES:To describe the ways in which the doctor-patient relationship experienced by newly qualified pre-registration house officers (PRHOs) differed from their undergraduate expectations.DESIGN:Qualitative study in which in-depth semistructured interviews were carried out with each PRHO within 4-6 weeks of the start of their first job.SETTING:Three teaching hospitals, three district general hospitals and four general practices in south-east England.PARTICIPANTS:24 newly qualified PRHOs.RESULTS:A number of differences were identified by PRHOs. These were caused in part by the impact of factors such as the shortage of time, which could lead to emotional 'blunting'. Some PRHOs were changing their ideas about what constitutes a 'good' doctor, and were redefining the meaning of a 'professional' relationship. The relationships of PRHOs with patients were also affected by the attitudes of their senior colleagues. For example, where PRHOs tried to maintain a patient-centred relationship, they could be identified by colleagues as working too slowly. PRHOs working in general practice were able to utilize and improve their communication skills with patients, but found it difficult to transfer these skills back into the hospital setting.CONCLUSIONS:Despite receiving substantial undergraduate education on how best to communicate with patients, a variety of factors conspired to prevent hospital-based PRHOs from utilizing this information. Building on these findings, a number of recommendations are made to help improve practice.

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