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Hospitals Take Notice of Bedside Manner – Finally

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

How has your doctor been treating you lately? Is his or her bedside manner intact, or do you leave your appointments feeling more like a punching bag?

As I scoured my Chicago Tribune recently, I perked up when I saw two articles in the same section addressing behavior issues among physicians. What could this mean? Have doctors been losing their cool more lately?

I’m not sure whether bad behavior among physicians is more common these days or if we’re simply becoming more aware of it. But apparently hospitals themselves are taking notice of it, as evidenced by the interventions featured in the two newspaper articles.

The first article described a slew of programs developed by medical schools that offer seminars in the creative arts to its medical students. For instance, seven medical students at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine are participating in a course called “The Layered Self-Portrait” during which the students are directed through the process of drawing an anatomically-correct self-portrait. Students at the University of Chicago are taking creative writing, while other medical schools have their students enrolled in painting, improvisational comedy, or humanities courses.

Why? Studies show that such coursework can improve doctors’ mindfulness, concentration, sensitivity, and compassion for others – all qualities essential to providing humane medical care but often sorely missing from a doctor’s repertoire.

The other article detailed efforts to curb angry outbursts by physicians by sending them to anger management classes. Apparently experts estimate that 3 – 5% of doctors exhibit irate behaviors that are so disruptive that they put patients and co-workers at risk. Some of these documented behaviors include breaking a medical technician’s finger when slamming down a piece of surgical equipment, berating nurses, cutting off patients who are trying to ask questions, and throwing objects at residents in training who the doctors feel aren’t moving or learning fast enough.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has been tolerated for years and chalked up to sleep deprivation and extreme stress associated with the job. While these are very real pressures, they don’t excuse actions that deplete morale among staff and demean patients who are supposed to be the top priority of these professionals.

Anger management for doctors is becoming a new specialty among mental health professionals, some of whom offer focused counseling and group workshops to help physicians learn new coping skills and better ways to relate to co-workers and patients. While it’s too soon to tell whether anger management courses will make a difference, I’m happy to see that hospitals are actually doing something about this problem rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Perhaps these veteran doctors who blow their tops should consider joining their protégés in some enlightening courses in the arts. Watercolor, anyone?


Boodman, S. G. (March 20, 2013). Hospitals sending problem doctors to anger management. Chicago Tribune (Kindle Version).

Pevtzow, L. (March 20, 2013). Teaching compassion. Chicago Tribune (Kindle Version).

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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