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Observations Border Crossing

Manners in medicine

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 19 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1408
  1. Tessa Richards, assistant editor, BMJ
  1. trichards{at}

We should not underestimate the power of caring

Is Britain the rudest nation on earth? The results of a recent poll reported in The Week suggest as much, and as night follows day the idea that schools should teach “good manners” has been floated. Nothing new here then. In 1898 George Bernard Shaw observed, “We don’t bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don’t dress well, and we’ve no manners.” Centuries before him William of Wykeham enshrined the motto “Manners makyth man” to steer the schoolboys of Winchester College.

When our daily exchange with others is courteous and pleasant, life is enhanced. On days when we are worried, vulnerable, or sick our interaction with others assumes added importance. Shaw was no lover of doctors, but in his day the value of good “bedside” manners (and professional attire) was acknowledged. Sitting by the bed, listening and observing, reassuring where possible, showing empathy where not, were often all a doctor or nurse could offer. Now the black bags contain effective medicines, and the outcomes …

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