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Medical students' perceptions of their learning about the doctor−patient relationship: a qualitative study

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To describe and discuss Year 5 medical students' perceptions of their own learning about the doctor−patient relationship. Methods 

We carried out a qualitative study of semi-structured interviews with 16 Year 5 medical students using 3-way analysis at the School of Medicine, Federal University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. Results 

For experiences at the pre-clinical stage, the subcategories were: positive aspects of the medical psychology course; great distance between theory and reality, and strong desire for clinical practice. For experiences at the clinical stage, the subcategories were: demand for opportunities to discuss the doctor−patient relationship; teachers as either role models or anti-models; clinical situations favourable for developing empathic relationships, and clinical situations unfavourable for developing empathic relationships. For views about future experiences, the subcategories were: apprehension about ethical behaviour; anxiety about handling patients' psychosocial characteristics, and fear of professional ethics cases or legal action. Discussion 

To compensate for the lack of practical activities during the pre-clinical stage, students search for extracurricular activities that often overload them. Because teachers function as professional role models, their attitudes towards patients have great importance. Students fear not being able to maintain their empathic capacity in the future because of work-related issues. Knowledge of the psychological aspects of the doctor−patient relationship helps students to comprehend their experiences. Gradual contact between student and medical practice from the beginning of the course is advised. It should be followed by interdisciplinary discussions that deal with the technical aspects of cases and the doctor−patient relationship.

Keywords: *attitude of health personnel; *learning; *perception; *physician patient relations; curriculum; humans; medical/*psychology; students

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: State Department of Health of São Paulo, Health Institute, São Paulo, Brazil 2: Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology, Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), São Paulo, Brazil 3: Department of Medical Psychology and Psychiatry, School of Medical Sciences, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), São Paulo, Brazil

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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