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Beyond the white coat: training great doctors

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Winter


The deputy dean of education discusses outstanding physicians and what they must be able to say to their patients.

In his welcoming speech to 100 members of the Class of 2010 at the White Coat Ceremony on August 29, Richard Belitsky, M.D., reminisced about his own introduction to medical school. His role models, he said, were the television doctors of his youth. “I wanted to be smart like Dr. Casey. I wanted to be compassionate like Dr. Welby. I wanted to be good-looking like Dr. Kildare,” he said, provoking laughs from the audience.

Turning serious, Belitsky, the deputy dean for education and associate professor of psychiatry, acknowledged that the students have much to learn. “But so much of what you need to be really good doctors, you already know,” he said.

Belitsky went on to list the qualities he believes are essential to being a good doctor. “Becoming a great doctor begins not with what you know, but who you are. Being someone’s doctor is about a relationship. That relationship is built on trust,” he said. “Being a great doctor begins not with what you have to say, but your ability to listen.”

He concluded with what doctors need to be able to say. “First, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said. “Things go wrong. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault. ... Things go wrong. Sometimes the most healing thing that you can do is to acknowledge that by saying ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

The other things doctors need to know how to say include “ ‘I don’t know,’ ” he said. “Being great doctors doesn’t mean you have to know everything. You can’t. What is the main thing you need to know? The limits of what you know. You can’t just say ‘I don’t know.’ Something else has to happen. ‘I don’t know … yet. But I will find out.’ ”

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