Letter: Doctors need care

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The Independent Culture
Sir: British universities are advised to select medical students who have the intuitive ear and interpersonal skills essential for a good bedside manner (report, 26 August). Less emphasis is to be placed on A- level grades. It has always surprised me that it is assumed that academics cannot empathise.

Twenty-five years ago I entered medical school with so many ideals and a good bedside manner. My medical student friends were no different. Indeed we would discuss the importance of being able to communicate and sympathise with our future patients. We entered our first year of practice with excitement, anxiety and the aim to do our best. I had not even considered what my salary would be. By the end of the first year I was bitter, angry and exhausted. No one cared for the junior doctors; we were expected to do more than was humanly possible and still care.

Last week I read five articles in the Student British Medical Journal by doctors at the end of their first year. Nothing has changed. Their descriptions brought the whole experience flooding back, leaving me very angry. While doctors are mistreated, we cannot expect them to have a good bedside manner. The doctors who have an excellent rapport with patients and try to rise above the pressures of work are the ones who often end up with burnout and stress and have to leave.

It does not stop as a consultant. As a GP, yesterday I tried to get a patient seen by a surgeon urgently. He was helpful and agreed to add her to the clinic of 45 patients already booked. To expect to have a good, safe opinion and a doctor with an unhurried, caring manner in such a clinic is impossible.

No matter how well medical students are selected, unless we care for them, with all the good intentions in the world they will not be able to care for their patients.


North Lancing, West Sussex