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30 Ways To Win Friends and Influence People as a Physician Assistant

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In the fast-paced world of modern medicine, where technology and data-driven decisions often take center stage, it is easy to overlook the most powerful tool at a clinician’s disposal—the ability to connect with patients on a human level. 

In a bid to optimize efficiency and productivity, the doctor-patient relationship can sometimes be overshadowed. However, the timeless wisdom from Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” offers some timeless reminders to help doctors, PAs, and nurses better communicate with their patients. The bottom line? Fostering a deep sense of trust and empathy that can lead to better outcomes and both patient and provider satisfaction.

The Science of Trusting Your Healthcare Provider

A 2011 study in Taiwan looked at patients with type 2 diabetes and whether or not the level of trust between patient and doctor could influence, not just satisfaction, but HbA1c. Researchers discovered that trust was positively related to glycemic control. 

A 2017 meta-analysis came to a similar conclusion: When patients placed greater trust in their healthcare providers, they experienced improved health behaviors, fewer symptoms, higher quality of life, and increased satisfaction with their treatment.

In today’s medical landscape, doctors and PAs find themselves navigating a myriad of daily challenges, from diagnostic uncertainties to ever-changing treatment protocols. Amidst these challenges, the emotional needs of patients can sometimes get overlooked. 

However, empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, can be the key to unlocking a stronger doctor-patient relationship. Dale Carnegie’s classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People emphasizes the significance of showing genuine interest in others, a skill that can significantly impact patient experiences and overall healthcare outcomes.

Carnegie’s book is categorized into 3 main groups of recommendations:

  1. Become a friendlier person
  2. Win People to Your Way of Thinking
  3. Be a Leader

Become a Friendlier Person

Doctors and PAs often encounter patients who are scared, anxious, or in pain in the medical field. While it’s natural for healthcare professionals to focus on the physical aspects of the patient’s condition, practicing empathy is also required in these situations. Carnegie’s book teaches the value of putting ourselves in others’ shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. By doing so, doctors can approach sensitive topics with greater compassion, helping patients feel heard and understood even during challenging moments.

In this each section, Carnegie gives 10 points that all healthcare personnel should take to heart. The first 10 lessons, or principles as he calls them, are as follows: 

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest, sincere appreciation. 
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want. 
  4. Become genuinely interested in other people. 
  5. Smile. 
  6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the most important sound in any language. 
  7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. 
  8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. 
  9. Make the other person feel important – and do so sincerely. 
  10. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. 

The Importance of Empathy in Medical Practice

Breaking bad news is a daily task for healthcare providers. Diagnosing and managing a life-altering condition can be emotionally taxing for both patient and provider. By applying the principles of empathy and active listening, doctors and PAs can navigate these conversations with sensitivity, providing much-needed emotional support to patients and their families.

Creating a patient-centered medical practice is not just about offering state-of-the-art treatments; it also involves building an environment that fosters open communication and trust. Patients are more likely to feel comfortable sharing their concerns and asking questions in an environment where they know their voices will be heard and respected. Carnegie’s principles, such as remembering and using patients’ names, demonstrating appreciation, and offering personalized care, can help doctors cultivate a patient-centric culture in their clinic or hospital.

Win People to Your Way of Thinking

There’s no shortage of information on motivational interviewing techniques designed to improve patient compliance—to get the patient to see things your way if you will. Carnegie has another 10 principles for that:

  1. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.” 
  2. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. 
  3. Begin in a friendly way. 
  4. Get the other person saying, “Yes, yes” immediately. 
  5. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. 
  6. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. 
  7. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. 
  8. Be sympathetic to the other person’s ideas and desires. 
  9. Appeal to the nobler motives. 
  10. Dramatize your ideas.

Active Listening: Beyond Words and Diagnoses

Effective communication is a cornerstone of successful medical practice. While doctors and PAs are trained to diagnose and treat, truly hearing and understanding the patient’s concerns go beyond the realm of anatomy, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. How to Win Friends and Influence People advocates for active listening, a powerful technique that involves paying full attention to what the patient is saying and acknowledging their emotions. By validating their experiences, healthcare providers can create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, paving the way for more productive conversations and better healthcare outcomes.

Be a Leader

Doctors have historically held positions of authority, respect, and influence within their communities. They are often viewed as leaders but many probably don’t see themselves that way. Whether leading the healthcare team or leading by example, doctors and PAs can learn from Carnegie’s 10 final principles: 

  1. Throw down a challenge. 
  2. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. 
  3. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. 
  4. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. 
  5. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. 
  6. Let the other person save face. 
  7. Praise the slightest and every improvement. Be “lavish in your praise.” 
  8. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. 
  9. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. 
  10. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Building Trust through Positive Reinforcement

Trust is the foundation upon which the doctor-patient relationship thrives. When patients feel that their healthcare providers genuinely care about their well-being, they are more likely to follow medical advice and treatment plans. Carnegie’s principles of appreciation and positive reinforcement can be effectively applied in a medical setting. Praising patients for their efforts, even in small accomplishments, can motivate them to take ownership of their health and foster long-term adherence to treatment regimens.

Adapting Communication Styles

Just as each patient’s medical condition requires personalized attention, so too does their communication style. Carnegie highlights the significance of understanding the unique perspectives of others and adapting one’s approach accordingly. Doctors and PAs who can tailor their communication to suit individual patient needs are more likely to achieve successful patient interactions. By adopting a patient-centric approach, doctors can make patients feel heard, understood, and respected, ultimately strengthening the therapeutic alliance.

Resolving Conflicts with Diplomacy

In any profession, disagreements, and conflicts are bound to arise. PAs are no strangers to difficulty and rejection. Handling difficult conversations with patients or colleagues can be particularly challenging. Carnegie’s principles of empathy, active listening, and finding common ground come to the rescue here as well. By approaching conflicts with diplomacy and a focus on mutual understanding, doctors can transform potentially tense situations into opportunities for growth and connection.

Nurturing Collaborative Healthcare Teams

The principles outlined in How to Win Friends and Influence People are not limited to patient-doctor relationships alone. They can be equally effective in fostering strong relationships among healthcare professionals themselves, leading to better collaboration and streamlined care.

But the bickering and politicking between doctors, PAs, and nurse practitioners has to stop. The medical profession, at its core, is about healing and nurturing others. As technological advancements continue to drive progress, this core truth along with the power of human connection must never be forgotten.

By embracing these principles, doctors, and PAs can forge deeper connections with their patients, leading to enhanced patient satisfaction, improved treatment compliance, and ultimately, better health outcomes. As we integrate these time-honored principles with modern medical practices, we can pave the way for a more compassionate, empathetic, and effective healthcare system–heaven knows we need it. Embracing the wisdom of Carnegie’s book, we cannot only heal bodies but also touch hearts and souls, making a lasting impact on the lives of our patients and their families. Not bad for a book that’s almost 100 years old.

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