Smart people are usually pictured as individuals who prefer solitude over social interactions. They are stereotypically expected to keep to themselves, reading books or doing stuff that society labels as geeky. They don’t talk a lot, but when they do, it’s usually on topics that not so many find relatable.
Because of its high demand for memorization and crucial decision-making, the medical field is understandably populated by people who are highly intelligent. Given the stereotypical expectations associated with being smart, professionals in this field are often viewed as really brilliant but socially inept.
However, having good social skills is actually expected of people who practice medicine. In fact, MCAT test prep reviewers and the actual test itself have sections that assess the examinee’s familiarity of social science concepts. MCAT, by the way, is a test that measures a student’s readiness to withstand the pressures of the medical field. As such, aside from assessing understanding of social science concepts, this exam also measures intelligence and problem-solving abilities among others. Now, why is being gregarious crucial in the medical field?
The patient-physician encounter is one marked with trust, and trust is earned by effective social interactions
Truth be told, the physician cannot do much if the patient does not cooperate. The patient has to disclose all the details that the physician needs to formulate an appropriate program of care. Of course, full disclosure requires a high level of trust, especially that some of the details that the patient shares are sensitive and highly personal. They might be associated with mistakes or memories that the individual wishes to forget. Or they may involve a behavior that society frowns upon such as unrestrained sexual activity or compulsive drinking or smoking.
If the physician doesn’t know how to appropriately deal with the patient, these details will never be collected, and the program of care might be missing its most crucial input.
Deep social understanding is necessary in breaking stereotypes
Many patients are often heard complaining that the care that they receive from their doctors is not personal enough, meaning it does not really coincide with their unique circumstance and needs.
This impersonal handling can be a result of stereotypical thinking on the part of the healthcare provider. Doctors often have to shuffle people along without pleasantries because they need to see all their patients for the day. That can lead to doctors who rely so much on what their manuals say, practically ignoring the wealth of information that they can get by actually getting a bit more personal with their patients.
Reasonable intimacy in patient-doctor connections is necessary, and it requires a level of social understanding to develop. Without this, the physician might be unwilling to reach out, and the patient might feel unwelcome to give important information.
Even with its apparent significance, social efficacy is actually one of the least prioritized parts of the medical practice. Schools tend to focus on understanding and mastering physiological concepts, which are of course important but just not enough. Good thing there are recent movements that aim to redirect attention to the importance of social skills in delivering effective healthcare.