David interviews, they searched for patterns, identifying
David Schenck and Larry R. Churchill’s Healers: Extraordinary Clinicians at Work, published by Oxford University Press in 2012, explores the healing potential of relationships. According to Healers, relational skills are undervalued and undertaught in medical schools — despite being as fundamental to the healing process as technical skills. In Healers, Schenck and Churchill set out to identify specific, concrete things practitioners can do to improve these skills.Schenck and Churchill conducted 50 interviews with practitioners identified by their peers as especially good at forming relationships with patients. Using these interviews, they searched for patterns, identifying 8 major themes among practitioners identified as “healers”: (1) Healers remember common courtesies — they smile, shake hands, and greet everyone in the room (“Do the little things”); (2) they allow patients the space to speak about what’s important to them (“Take time”); (3) they recognize their own humanity and allow themselves to be touched by patients’ stories (“Be open and listen”); (4) they sincerely like their patients, and they have compassion for them (“Find something to like, to love”); (5) they remain humble (“Remove barriers”); (6) they are active listeners and allow patients to explain their concerns fully before offering guidance (“Let the patient explain”); (7) they recognize that no one knows the patient better than the patient does (“Share authority”); and (8) they have gratitude for their role in the healing process, never abandoning a patient (“Be committed and trustworthy”).The spirit of the book is reminiscent of Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom, which also emphasizes the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient. In fact, the first chapter of Healers includes a quote from Remen: “We thought we could cure everything, but it turns out we can only cure a small amount of human suffering. The rest of it needs to be healed” (p. 3).For anyone who is interested in the material but doesn’t have time to read the entire book, Healers is an expansion of an article published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The article was published in 2008 and is titled “Healing Skills for Medical Practice” — for students, it’s easily available online.