For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: Strengthening the patient-provider bond

I, along with about a dozen team members from our medical education program, just got back from the annual meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that was held in Seattle, Wash. All of the schools in the country offering an M.D. degree belong to the AAMC, which is “dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research.” The AAMC’s main focus though, naturally enough, is on medical student and resident education, and, as such, is an important resource that we use frequently in support of our pedagogical efforts.

As has been the case for many years, all team members from the School who attended the meeting (including two UND SMHS medical students) will be invited to a debriefing that is scheduled for later this month. I’ll have more impressions to share following that meeting, but I thought that I would offer some initial impressions now, especially since they are relevant to all our healthcare programs and not just the medical doctor component.

One of the most impactful sessions took place the morning of the last day (Tuesday) and was the last of four plenary sessions that took place during the meeting. The session was chaired by Dr. Abraham Verghese, the noted Stanford University professor and author of such acclaimed books as Cutting for Stone, My Own Country, The Tennis Partner, and, most recently, The Covenant of Water. Dr. Verghese’s comments focused on the important bond between patient and physician, and how the ritual of the physical examination is a way in which patient and doctor connect. Dr. Verghese then introduced three patients to discuss their experiences with the medical care delivery enterprise – both good and bad. By the way, it is remarkable how infrequently this occurs – that we solicit feedback and impressions of our patients at our national medical meetings. Be that as it may, the three patients were remarkably eloquent as they each described their own painful and fraught medical journey. One patient had experienced a miscarriage, another has recurrent cancer, and the third – a young man in his 20s – recently received a heart transplant for an inherited heart ailment.

All three were incredibly grateful for the outstanding medical care they received. But all three also were vocal about salient lapses in the patient-provider relationship that each experienced. The unifying themes they discussed were providers who talked when they should have listened or were so removed from emotional involvement with the patients that they came across as cold and distant. In fact, the heart transplant patient nicknamed one of his caregivers “Dr. Distant” because of this failing.

Other sessions addressed a wide variety of relevant topics, including healthcare workforce issues, the burgeoning role of telehealth and virtual care, professionalism, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding race-conscious admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, interprofessional education, rural health issues, simulation in medical education, and many others.

The bottom line is that I found it to be a really good use of my time. This was the first AAMC national meeting I’ve attended since the pandemic, and I found it to be as useful and productive as ever. More to come at the end of the month, after we hold our debriefing session scheduled for November 29, 2023.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences