When that was first said to me as a very young dentist, I thought it was crazy. Love your patient? What’s that got to do with what we do?
I was so naïve. How can we possibly love our patients?
I suppose I should first explain what was meant by that phrase. Naturally, “loving your patient” is not the romantic type of love, nor is it a physical, intimate, social, or other types of love you share with family, significant others, and friends.
Loving your patient means not only accepting them as they come to you for help, but also doing so in a loving, caring, understanding manner. It also means treating them as you would want to be treated.
Now, I know that naysayer part of your brain is already kicking in, and you’re thinking of Mrs. Jones last week, who just makes your stomach flip when you saw her on your schedule. Or, that patient who is so demanding and unreasonable you know that you’ll never please him/her, end up “losing your shirt,” or even end up with a lawsuit. Yikes! How can one possibly “love” these types of people?
In the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, one small part of the book discusses which doctors get sued and why. In short, a group of people where shown a 30 second video clip of a doctor interacting with a patient, without any audio attached to the clip. With a high degree of accuracy, this group of people – all questioned independently – were able to pick out which doctors had been sued and which had not. How? Quite simply, they were able to pick up on those doctors who really cared, who really listened, and whose body language said those things, too.
Love comes in many forms. From our work as professionals, it means caring for the people who choose us for their care without judgment (people are tired of being judged), without placing our own value system on them, to be fully present and listening when they speak.
You know from your own experiences when you are with someone who really cares about you and when someone doesn’t. To be honest, I don’t really think you’ll do this, but I’d like for you to make a list of what someone who cares for you – in the context of a health care provider – actually does that makes you feel cared for in a sincere, powerful way. What did they do?
Now, what do you do as a health care provider? Is there a difference?
Imagine all these people who come to you for care. How would your practice change if you were to be that provider for your own personal care that made you feel so loved?
One of my early mentors was a physician who by my estimation is no “rocket scientist”. However, his practice has been overflowing for the over 30 years I have known him, despite all the changes in the healthcare system. Why? I witnessed how much love he showed each and every patient no matter his or her illness, predicament, concern, or problem. He took the time to listen, and you can bet every single patient felt loved by him. Now in his late 70’s, he’s still doing the same, and he never will retire, not because he needs or wants more money (he doesn’t belong to any country clubs, drive expensive cars, or live in a large home). He simply loves his patients in a way that he wants to care for them until he is simply unable.
Can you imagine what our profession would be like if we were all that way? Can you imagine what our entire health care system could be like? Can you imagine how the public’s perceptions of dentists and dentistry would change if we all would adopt a loving attitude toward our patients?
YOU can, and YOU can start immediately. Pay no attention to what other doctors are doing. Forget about insurance companies, marketing, and more. Love your patients by giving them your full attention, being curious about their concern and needs, paying attention to their values, wants, and needs, and giving them the same type of feelings that you experienced when you felt loved by someone providing care to you.
The prizes for stepping into this way of being are immeasurable. Not only will your life change because you are truly connecting with people, gone will be most all of the headaches you encounter from day-to-day in your practice because your patients know you care.
In fact, they will know you love them, and you and your life will change forever.