Humanizing Physicians

Humanizing Physicians & The Future of Medicine


Humanizing Physicians



Post written by Joseph Babaian, MBA


For some time we’ve been hearing the cacophonic drumbeat of compassionate medicine, high-touch care, superior patient experiences, and physicians as empathetic partners in our healthcare journeys. We all know at least a little about these subjects and we try to understand: how we should guide healthcare into the future? Do we ever reach Oz and find perfection?

Today we discuss the person under the white coat – what makes them who they are? What makes them excellent physicians? What can changes in education/training do to improve the physician-patient relationship/partnership?

I grew up in Detroit and was lucky to often see Rodin’s The Thinker perched in front of the Detroit Institute of the Arts. What’s most striking to me is the timeless nature of such introspective thought. Do our physicians and clinical staff need to be “humanized” as part of this journey to tomorrow? Perhaps the distinction is more subtle than that and we only need think about new ways of doing things better.

Sally Satel wrote several years ago in the Wall Street Journal, “Physician, Humanize Thyself.” Sally pondered if compassion can be taught and expresses some skepticism. She does go on to say:


Nonetheless, basic fluency in the human dimensions of patient care, e.g. respectful attentiveness and a genuine commitment to a patient’s welfare, can and must be instilled throughout training. It happens not in the classroom, of course, but, ideally, on the wards and in clinics under the watchful mentorship of seasoned physicians.


Sally highlights something we know to be true – the best lessons are learned at the side of experienced mentors. This is the future of medicine where science meets the true human element. We also hear from Dr. David Mueller about Mount Sinai Medical School’s program to humanize medicine and produce more well-rounded physicians:


A liberal arts background may provide these students with enhanced communications skills and improved bedside manner.


Almost five years after Sally wrote about humanizing physicians and Mount Sinai’s (NYC) program to create more well-rounded doctors, we see this program still going strong today. In fact, Julie Rovner of NPR writes about the HuMed program in “A Top Medical School Revamps Requirements To Lure English Majors”:


You can’t tell by looking which students at Mount Sinai’s school of medicine in New York City were traditional pre-meds as undergraduates and which weren’t. And that’s exactly the point.


The program so successful, it’s getting a new name – FlexMed – and we see the positive feedback:


Studies have shown that the students in Mt. Sinai’s Humanities in Medicine program are just as successful in medical school as the students who take more science classes in college. And they are slightly more likely to choose primary care or psychiatry as a specialty — both areas of high need.


Where does this lead our discussion? We see the flow of change making positive results in medical education, producing new physicians with an altered perspective compared to previous generations.

An interesting story about physician-poets is shared by Annette Leal Mattern of EmpowHER “A Humanizing and Surprising Discovery of Physician-Poets.” Annette mentions how the poems open a door:


Now, through these works, we are invited to share a rare glimpse into the soul of our healers. It is a journey worth taking.


Clearly, there’s more than a white coat and organic chemistry that makes a modern physician. We demand more and more from these passionate healers and we strive to learn about the person they are, not just the job they do. In doing so, we improve medicine for all.



Further Resources:

“Physician, Humanize Thyself” Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17. 2010, accessed May 30, 2015

“A Top Medical School Revamps Requirements To Lure English Majors” Julie Rovner, NPR, May 27, 2015, accessed May 30, 2015

“Humanities and Medicine Early Assurance Program at Mount Sinai Accepts Liberal Arts Students into Medical School” Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, May 2015, accessed May 30, 2015

The Icahn School of Medicine – FlexMed Program. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, May 2015, accessed May 30, 2015

“A Humanizing and Surprising Discovery of Physician-Poets” Annette Leal Mattern, EmpowHER.,0, accessed May 29, 2015

“Healthcare Marketing: Humanizing Hospitals and Physicians Through Social Media” Caitlin Mooney, Agency Post, Oct 8, 2012, accessed May 29, 2015

“From Detached Concern to Empathy: Humanizing Medical Practice” Jodi Halpern, Oxford University Press, 2001, accessed May 25, 2015

“Humanizing anatomy: a medical student’s first patient” Kevin B. O’Reilly, American Medical News, April 18, 2011, accessed May 30, 2015



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