For new PA and medical students, touching patients is just plain awkward at first, which is why medical programs get students in close contact with patients early on – to make them swim in that discomfort so they’ll get over it quickly. You may recall that my first real patient experience as a PA student was to conduct all of the most sensitive exams – breast, prostate, testicular, and pelvic. Touching a patient’s shoulder or feet was simple after that. But the health care as an industry is slowly becoming less interested in touching patients, and it may be up to our generation of clinicians set things right.
I was completely taken by the following video talk by Abraham Vergese, MD on the importance of touching patients as part of the physical examination. Vergese’s argument that touching patients is a sacred and rapidly disappearing skill in medicine is beautifully told, and I encourage anyone considering a career in medicine to watch it and think long and hard about what matters most to them in their work. I would love to hear your comments on the topic – it’s something I’ve become very passionate about.