7 Key Traits of the Ideal Doctor

A Good Attitude Goes a Long Way, Patients Tell Researchers

Medically Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on March 09, 2006

March 9, 2006 -- What makes for an ideal doctor? Patients share their viewsin a new study.

The study appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. It's based on nearly200 patients treated at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Minnesota from 2001 to2002.

In phone interviews with people who had no ties with the Mayo Clinic, thepatients described their best and worst experiences with their Mayo Clinicdoctors, with confidentiality guaranteed. The doctors seen by the patients camefrom 14 medical specialties.


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The researchers -- who included Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, of Ohio StateUniversity's Fisher College of Business -- then checked the interviewtranscripts and spotted seven traits that patients favored in theirdoctors.

What Made the List?

Here are the seven traits listed by the patients, along with the patients'definitions of those traits:

  • Confident: "The doctor's confidence gives me confidence."
  • Empathetic: "The doctor tries to understand what I am feeling andexperiencing, physically and emotionally, and communicates that understandingto me."
  • Humane: "The doctor is caring, compassionate, and kind."
  • Personal: "The doctor is interested in me more than just as a patient,interacts with me, and remembers me as an individual."
  • Forthright: "The doctor tells me what I need to know in plain language andin a forthright manner."
  • Respectful: "The doctor takes my input seriously and works with me."
  • Thorough: "The doctor is conscientious and persistent."

That list isn't in any particular order. The researchers didn't checkwhether confidence was more important to patients than respectful treatment,for instance. The Mayo Foundation funded the study.

What Didn't Make the List?

The traits covered doctors' behavior, not technical know-how.

That finding "does not suggest that technical skills are less important thanpersonal skills, but it does suggest that the former are more difficult forpatients to judge," the researchers write.

They add that patients may tend to assume that doctors are competent unlessthey see signs of incompetence, the researchers add.

One patient put it this way in the study:


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"We want doctors who can empathize and understand our needs as a wholeperson. ... We want to feel that our doctors have incredible knowledge in theirfield. But every doctor needs to know how to apply their knowledge with wisdomand relate to us as plain folks who are capable of understanding our diseaseand treatment."

Who Wants a Cold, Callous Doctor?

The study is the first of its kind, writes James Li, MD, PhD, in a journaleditorial.

Li works in the allergic diseases division of the Mayo Clinic's medicalschool in Rochester, Minn. He notes that he would have liked to have seen moredetails on the patients who were interviewed, such as sex, race, and age. Thisinformation would be helpful since minorities and women have sometimes reportedworse treatment from doctors than whites and men.

Still, Li says it's natural for patients to want caring caregivers. Hedrafted a list of seven traits that are the opposite of those mentioned in thestudy:

  • Timid
  • Uncaring
  • Misleading
  • Cold
  • Callous
  • Disrespectful
  • Hurried

"Can healthcare really ever be high quality if the patient-physicianinteraction is hurried, disrespectful, cold, callous, or uncaring?" Liwrites.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Bendapudi, N. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006; vol 81: pp 338-344. Li, J. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2006; vol 81: pp 294-296. News release, Mayo Clinic.

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