Healing by Example: The Influences of Medical Residents' Attitudes and Health Behaviors on their Communication Skills and Counseling Practices
Bowersock, Allison Hope
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The opportunity to educate obese patients on healthy lifestyle practices and address habits related to chronic disease development is present among many physician office visits, though this opportunity is often overlooked (Flocke, Stange, & Goodwin, 1998). Understanding ways to improve the medical education and enhance the counseling skills of future physicians are of practical and personal relevance to current research. By improving the ways in which physicians counsel obese patients on weight management practices, the healthcare paradigm is poised to create an indelible mark on the wellbeing of our nation. Based on the need to address patient education and counseling, the purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between physician attitudes and health behaviors on their overall communication and communication skills. The study surveyed 38 second-year medical residents at the New York University Bellevue School of Medicine using the Weight Management Survey developed by NYU researchers. Communication and counseling skills were measured using scores from Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs) administered on the same day as the Weight Management Counseling survey. Results of the survey and the OSCEs were analyzed to investigate relationships between each survey item of three categories of questions (attitudes toward weight management counseling, attitudes toward obese patients, physician health habits) and each of two sets of OSCE scores (obesity-related communication skills and overall counseling skills). Results of the data analysis suggest significant relationships between physicians' personal health habits–specifically dietary habits–and obesity counseling–related communication skills. Results also suggest a significant relationship between physicians' attitudes toward obesity counseling-related communication skills and overall communication skills. Although an extensive body of evidence corroborates these relationships, future investigations should administer the surveys and methods used in this study in rural as well as other urban locations in order to improve variability among medical residents surveyed and assessed. These results also highlight the need to investigate more information about the learning environment of medical residents and also the working environment of physicians, in a variety of settings, in order to provide more depth to the body of literature suggesting providers' health habits improves patient health outcomes.
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