Observations Ethics Man

Manners maketh the doctor

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6073 (Published 28 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6073
  1. Daniel Sokol, barrister and honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

Politeness is not an optional bonus but a moral imperative

Politeness is a much under-rated virtue in medicine. This is surprising, as so many complaints about clinicians concern a lack of politeness. “The doctor was terribly rude,” the disgruntled patient recounts, “he didn’t seem at all interested.” At school the motto was “manners maketh man.” For many patients, especially those unfamiliar with medicine, the measure of a doctor’s worth may well rest on his or her manner. In the eyes of the patient, “manners maketh the physician.”

The importance of politeness extends to all professions dealing with clients. The Code of Conduct for Barristers, for example, states that a barrister “must in all his professional activities be courteous.” The General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice also instructs doctors to “treat patients politely and considerately.” In writing such injunctions sound trite; of course doctors should be polite. Yet in the surgery or the hospital, when time is short, the art difficult, and the patient trying, even the naturally courteous are pushed to …

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