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Doctors talking to friends and families
  1. Bill Noble
  1. Academic Unit of Supportive Care, Sheffield Hallam University, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Bill Noble, Sheffield Hallam University, Academic Unit of Supportive Care, Sykes House, Little Common Lane, London, 89 Albert Embankment SE1 7T, UK; bill.noble{at}sheffield.ac.uk

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Doctors' communication skills have come a long way. In my first clinical teaching session at medical school, the professor warned us, “When you talk to patients and they tell you what is wrong with them, sometimes they start crying. It's best just to ignore it; I generally do and they generally stop”.

That was 1975 and it is different now. Communication skills training feature in all UK medical undergraduate courses and examinations. The GMC mandates it. Young general practitioners (GPs) are soaked in communication skills training and even surgeons are tested to see if they can speak civilly to patients in their college examinations. All medical professionals prove their communication competence in annual appraisals, but there is a problem.

Remembering the family

All this effort is directed at the interactions between doctors and patients. The most important people in the lives of the patients, the people that love them most, the ones that care for them and will grieve when they are dead, get an entirely …

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