A few years ago, Dr. Richard Belitsky of the Yale School of Medicine addressed his incoming class.

The audience was filled with students in the middle of their education journey – with many years of schooling and studying behind them and many more on the horizon as they begin their formal medical training.

Imagine their surprise when he told them the one skill they will need to be truly successful doctors is something they already have.

“So much of what you need to be really great doctors, you already know,” he began. “Becoming a great doctor begins not with what you know, but who you are. Being someone’s doctor is about a relationship. That relationship is built on trust. Being a great doctor begins not with what you have to say, but in your ability to listen.”

Listening. It’s an often overlooked skill, but at the end of the day, it’s what truly separates the good doctors from the great ones.

To be an active listener means being solely focused on the patient or person who is speaking, rather than the next patient on your rounds list. It means looking in the person’s eyes, instead of at the clock on the wall. It means waiting until the person is finished speaking, rather than jumping in with a quick solution.

Does it take a little more time? Perhaps. But in the long run, if you’re really listening to what the patient is saying, you may be better able to assess the problem on the first visit, rather than on the second or third or fourth visit.

And this leads me to one of my favorite quotes by the man often referred to as the ‘father of modern day medicine’, Sir William Osler. He said, “Listen to the patient; he is telling you the diagnosis.”

Excellent advice for any health care professional – whether they’ve practiced medicine for decades or they’re just beginning their training in medical school.


So what do you think? Do you and your care team make it a practice to really listen to each other and to your patients? Has it made a difference in the way you deliver care? Or do you find it difficult to take the time because of busy schedules and increased demands? I’d love to hear your thoughts.