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5 Tips for Resident Doctors

Kelsey LettI’ve been a patient of the health care system for over 20 years. When you’ve spent so much time in hospitals, you end up being a teacher of some sort. Look at it this way: you have this subject (your illness) and your job – other than taking care of yourself – is to educate others about your illness.

Although many doctors are also teachers, patients like me often deal with resident doctors (the students). That’s why I’ve written these 5 tips to help teach residents about how to interact positively with patients.

Be patient

When speaking to a patient or family member, remember to be patient when they ask questions or have concerns. Nobody wants to be rushed when it comes to their health.

Be kind

Whether you are bedside or in an office, remember to be kind to your patients. They are probably scared and nervous and need to feel that they can approach you (the doctor) without feeling put down. It’s best not to stand over the patient if they are in a bed. Sit next to them and show that you care.


When speaking with a new patient, be mindful of your tone and how you approach the patient and the subject of their health. It’s best not to overwhelm them. Talk to them with an understanding that they are trying to work with you as you are trying to work with them. Your tone will help patients to trust and connect with you.


When dealing with a newer or older patient, try to understand that there’s a lot going through their minds. They may have other issues going on that have nothing to do with their health. Try to understand that they need your help beyond just medications and dosages. Try to connect and understand how your patient is feeling—this will ensure that things go smoothly for all involved.

Be open

As you are dealing with your patient try to be transparent and explain the changes you may be making to their care. Try to be as honest as possible even if it is not news they want to hear. There’s nothing worse than being in the dark about your care. For difficult patients, maybe ask a nurse or social worker to be present. These patients are trusting you to make their lives easier, happier and healthier. This will not happen unless you and your patient are open with each other.

I find some residents to be nervous with patients: that’s ok—you are human too! The key to all these tips is to be open. Tell them they can trust you and that you will do everything in your power to help them and make them comfortable. Honesty cannot come from just the nurse. Your patient needs to feel you are being 100% open with them so that they can trust you.

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