What Are the Habits of Highly Humanistic Physicians?
by C. Chou, MD; http://humanism-in-medicine.org; July 31st, 2014

Most physicians would possibly agree which a humanistic method of patients– one that is sensitive to the cultural backgrounds, values, and preferences with the patient–is needed for quality patient care. However, serious amounts of financial pressures, in addition to productivity and academic demands, can dilute healthy intentions, and also the ideals with which we entered medicine can become compromised as time passes. This can in turn result in a snowball effect: if doctors can be having a hard time feeling humanistic, it may be hard to model humanistic attitudes with their learners.

To address this phenomenon, we conducted a study, entitled Attitudes and Habits of Highly Humanistic Physicians, which was published July 2014 in Academic Medicine. We wanted to know if there were any attitudes, habits, or any other factors that might help physicians to sustain humanistic behaviors as time passes. We were also considering whether these identified factors might subsequently be teachable to learners, thus perpetuating humanistic behaviors in the medical profession.

We wished to learn from your most humanistic of physicians. Because resident trainees work closely with attending physicians and find out them in action with patients, we surveyed internal medicine residents at the University of Pennsylvania to find out which attending physicians they recognized as role models for humanistic patient care. We then interviewed the physicians at the top of that list to discern, from their point of view, how they maintain their humanistic attitudes. Here are some highlights from those interviews.

Attitudes of those humanistic physicians include:

Approaching patients with a sense of humility and real curiosity about their lives, especially toward those patients to whom it may seem difficult to relate

Treating their patients while they themselves would want to be treated Seeing their role as not simply taking care in the medical aspect of their patients, and also helping their patients through life struggles– ‘being there with and for the patient.”

Physicians had the ability to identify habits they practice to actively sustain their humanism:

Ongoing and active self-reflection (specifically, reflecting on ways to become more compassionate toward patients)

Being inside a teaching role, where learners stimulate the doctor and remind these to uphold the conventional of humanism

Practicing mindfulness as well as other spiritual practices

Two of the most significant habits include:

Seeking an association with patients. The very experience of patients why these physicians work to forge in and of itself sustains their humanism. Finding a meaningful experience of patients was cited as not merely benefiting the patient, but in addition having the dual benefit of helping to stop burnout inside the physicians themselves.

Achieving balance. As expected, work-life balance (spending time outside at work for renewing activities for example reading, exercise, and family) was cited by many physicians within our study as vital in maintaining their humanism at the job. An interesting twist for this theme was that work-work balance –in other words, a diversity of duties at the workplace– also allowed many of such physicians to keep their humanistic attitudes.

Looking for methods to achieve a balance of duties face to face, seeking renewal from your stimulation teaching learners, and making meaningful connections with patients during direct patient care are some types of finding meaning in one’s work. Transforming work from a place of one's expenditure to at least one of energy renewal could possibly be one reason why these habits appear to provide an antidote to burnout.

That these physicians deliberately practice habits which focus on maintaining and improving their humanism reassuringly runs counter for the oft-expressed belief that humanistic attitudes are innate. Rather, the proven fact that the habits identified by these physicians may be modeled and taught to learners is promising for your sustainability of humanistic practices inside the medical profession. Even more exciting may be the link between the humanistic proper patients as well as the perceived outcome of reducing burnout in physicians themselves, which should provide more incentive and inspiration to foster the teaching of humanism inside workplace.




“Under the care of Leo J. Borrell, M.D. since December 2001, I have seen a remarkable improvement in my mother’s condition. She is responding dramatically to the new regiment Dr. Borrell has prescribed”

- Beth Rose


Feb 3, 2008

The Interdisciplinary Team; The Role of the Psychiatrist

by Dr. Leo J. Borrell, featured in Assisted Living Consult for November/December 2006. A HealthCom Media Publication