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Kindness can be the key to delivering better care.

Fam Pract Manag. 2003;10(10):64

Chivalry is not merely a civil duty meant for young men of yesteryear. Rather, it is a lost art that physicians – both male and female – can practice today. Being chivalrous requires effort, self-sacrifice and giving of oneself without expectation. A chivalrous physician respectfully places patients’ concerns before his or her own (within reason). Fundamentally, being chivalrous demonstrates to others that you are a person who actively pursues the moral high road and realizes your character, perpetually evolving, is linked to your deeds. Chivalry is simply acting with kindness. Yet kindness and other elements of civilized culture seem to have been given a backseat in our fast-paced, “me first” society. Fortunately, each of us has the power within to change that. With this in mind, here are ideas for applying chivalry in your personal and professional lives.

Build character

In direct contrast to current culture, which seems to devalue traditional principles such as integrity and graciousness, make character growth and maturity a personal priority. Practice observation, integrity, spiritual philanthropy and altruism to build the kind of character that will enhance your personal and professional relationships.

Validate others

Validating those around you with simple affirmations is essential to being chivalrous. Be it a smile, kind remark or pat on the back, you will develop better and stronger relationships by showing others that they are important to you. Doing so will also enhance your practice.

Practice civility

We spend most of our adult life in the workplace. Shouldn’t we make it as pleasant as possible for everyone? Remember what Ben Franklin once said: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If you’re not convinced, look around and see how you respond to colleagues who make time for you or say hello to you in the workplace. Choose to live life with civility. Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Say hello with a smile.

  • Look into a person’s eyes while speaking.

  • Cover your mouth when you yawn or cough.

  • Avoid speaking about your personal life while in front of patients.

  • Be humble.

Mind your manners

Remember the old-fashioned general practitioner who often had only time and wisdom to offer to patients? What made this physician stand out was not so much his medical knowledge, but his caring bedside manner. The same is true today. Patients value a physician who truly cares for them and respects them as individuals.

Make it real

People have an innate way of discerning disingenuous behavior. If there is an ulterior motive, they will see it. Remember that your patients rely on your decisions and seek your honest assessment. Let them know that you take their problems seriously, and respond to them with genuine concern. If you practice this, you may find that your patients listen to you more and take your advice more eagerly. (It works with colleagues, staff and family members as well.)

Act now

Chivalric principles lead to chivalric behavior, and chivalric behavior leads to loyal patients and improved health care. Perhaps the focus today should be on resurrecting this forgotten art.

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Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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