How Physicians Go Above and Beyond to Promote Patient Healing

Thomas Beck, PhD, of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, went the extra mile to bring a smile to pediatric patient Nikollette Chan by healing her cherished toy owl.

Healing is both a science and an art. Modern medical culture places significant emphasis on the scientific aspects of medical care—a physician’s ability to order tests, make diagnoses and provide treatment. But what is equally important, and often less discussed, are the relational aspects of care that promote healing from the inside out. The simple acts of holding a patient’s hand, offering a warm blanket, or tending to the unique needs of a child can elevate the patient experience in immeasurable ways.

In an article for Medpage Today, Medical College of Wisconsin’s Jennifer A. Woodard, MD, emphasizes the value of medical skills beyond what are taught in textbooks. She points out that most patients are hospitalized because they don’t feel well and they are often stuck in a situation where they have very little control—they can’t even get out of bed without setting off alarms. “There are few things more soothing than a warm blanket,” she writes. Given the lack of patient control, she also encourages physicians to check in on other needs: “Any time you are in a patient's room, it takes little effort to confirm they have everything they need. If they are thirsty, bring them something to drink. Obviously, make sure you tell someone if they have any particular restrictions or if you are unsure, but for most patients, having a fresh glass of ice-cold water goes a long way.”

On a deeper level, Woodard urges physicians and care teams to look beyond a patient’s physical needs. “Learn about them as people, not just disease states,” she says, suggesting physicians ask about their family support systems and other interests. “Building rapport with patients and families is vital to what we do. It's one thing to know the test answer, but another altogether to figure out a treatment plan your patient will be compliant with. At the end of every history and physical exam (H&P), I always ask what people enjoy doing outside of the hospital—that gives me more information than even the most detailed physical examination.”

We are proud to see this way of thinking brought to life at Stanford, both through Stanford Medicine 25’s teachings and the actions of our students, faculty and care teams. At the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, medical student Thomas Beck, PhD, went the extra mile to bring a smile to pediatric patient Nikollette Chan. The three-year-old girl, who was scheduled for surgery, arrived at the hospital with a cherished toy owl that she said was injured.

“My 3-year-old patient told me that her stuffed owl, HoooMe, recently had an accident, broke her wing, and just hasn’t been the same,” wrote Beck in a tweet. “I told her that I’d return later to help fix HoooMe’s wing. After I was finished with my daily tasks, I gathered some materials to create a cast for HoooMe. The smile on my patient’s face after we finished the cast was the highlight of my clinical year at @StanfordMed.”

This act of kindness was celebrated by both Beck’s preceptor, hospitalist Jessica Allan, MD, and Chan’s father, Nikolas. “Sometimes, the difference between a good doctor and a great doctor is bedside manner,” Nikolas said. “Dr. Thomas Beck, you sir will be a GREAT doctor, and GREAT father.”

Although these simple gestures might take a bit of extra attention, the rewards for both physician and patients are tenfold. Moments like this help us to make the most of every clinical interaction.

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