A changing culture in interpersonal and communication skills

Gadacz, Thomas R.
June 2003
American Surgeon;Jun2003, Vol. 69 Issue 6, p453
Academic Journal
journal article
In summary it is essential that we improve our interpersonal and communication skills. We can learn and be taught better skills. We will be evaluated on these skills in the future, and it is important for us to establish ourselves as good role models for the future surgeons who will be entering our profession. It is of benefit to our patients and will give them a better understanding of their disease and elevate their level of healthcare. It is also important to us to help reduce our stress and to eliminate burnout. We can improve our interpersonal and communication skills in many ways. First we must be aware that there is a problem and recognize this as a problem that can be solved and that we do need to improve our current skills. This can be done through multiple educational tools such as lectures, videos, and self-assessments. The responsibility for this culture change ranges from top to bottom, but really begins at the bottom. It is important for all of us especially individuals such as myself, who is not only a practicing surgeon but also a surgeon in a leadership position, a surgeon who teaches medical students and residents, and a chairman who develops the careers of young faculty members. It is important for organizations such as the Southeastern Surgical Congress to recognize this need of our members and to conduct seminars, luncheons, and courses in helping us acquire better skills and also giving us some assessment of the current status of our skills. The American College of Surgeons has already addressed this issue by forming the Task Force on Communication and Educational Skills. Various examining boards have already incorporated this into requirements and expectations of future physicians and surgeons. We must establish ourselves as good role models. Being a good role model cannot be overemphasized. We are very fortunate in being good role models in medical knowledge and mastering phenomenal technical feats; however, this is not enough. It is also important that we also improve our interpersonal and communication skills. We must establish goals and outcomes for ourselves and work on ways of assessing these to ensure that we are effective in improving our skills. We must incorporate interpersonal and communication skills into our training programs, postgraduate courses, and all aspects of lifelong continuing education. Addressing the improvement of our interpersonal and communication skills will have many beneficial effects including improved patient outcomes, a better healthcare status for our patients, and a high level of confidence that patients have in us as physicians and surgeons. We do at times have a less than ideal collegial relationship with other disciplines in medicine. This faulty relationship needs to be rectified. We need to restore and maintain a high collegial relationship with everyone in medicine not only other physicians, but also nurses, paramedical personnel, and others. These changes will require a great deal of effort and will take some considerable time. Initially laparoscopic cholecystectomy and laparoscopic skills were not adequately learned but with recognition of its importance, education, and time, we became master surgeons. We are very fortunate to have residents and practitioners with superb laparoscopic skills that they acquired during their training and in structured postgraduate courses. Likewise it is important to incorporate interpersonal and communication skills into our training programs and our continuing medical educational programs. Finally, this is not just a touchy-feely issue, but it is one of surgical professionalism. It is critical for us to address this as an important issue since it will enhance the good qualities that we already possess. Let's start today. I have enjoyed this year being your President, and wish to thank you for the opportunity of addressing you this morning.


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