September 7, 2022

President’s Letter from C. Buddy Creech – Importance of Communication

Dr. C. Buddy Creech
Dr. Buddy Creech

I wish I had been a communications major during college. I simply had no idea that effective communication was one of the most critical elements of being a physician. We see this in so many ways: How do I establish a tone, in just the first few minutes of a patient encounter, that will engender trust? How do I compassionately, yet clearly, communicate bad news? How do I provide consultative advice in a manner that is honoring to the requesting provider?

In a time where the cacophony of voices through social media and other outlets threaten to undermine clear, thoughtful, and accurate communication, let us recommit ourselves to honing this aspect of our craft.

How can we communicate scientific truths in a winsome, compelling manner, even to the skeptic? How can we engage with those who think differently than us in a mutually edifying and not overly confrontational way? How do we encourage people that there really aren’t government-sanctioned tracking devices in the COVID-19 vaccines?

How should we do this? I offer three suggestions:

  1. Read about personality types and corresponding communication techniques. Many of us may know our Myers-Briggs Personality Type, but how many of us are familiar with DISC, HEXACO, or the Enneagram (I’m a ‘3’, so I really would like positive feedback on, well, everything…). I have found it immensely beneficial to explore these different methodologies of personality classification so that we can tailor our communication strategies more precisely to those around us.
  2. Avoid echo chambers. It’s easy to gravitate towards those that think like we do.  I’m fortunate to have several vaccine-skeptical friends who challenge how I communicate about things like COVID-19, general vaccine safety, and specific adverse event questions. Inevitably, these conversations help me become a better communicator.
  3. Participate in media training. Please take the opportunity to pursue formal media training if you are able. I have done this through Vanderbilt, PIDS, and at scientific meetings; each has proven invaluable as I engage not only with the media, but with parents, patients, and colleagues.

The master clinician Sir William Osler asked his students to do four things: “Observe, record, tabulate, and communicate.” As we encourage our patients, colleagues, and friends to receive their annual influenza vaccines and their BA.4/BA.5-based COVID-19 booster doses, let us do so in the confidence of what our observations have taught us and with the humility that often accompanies thoughtful communicators.

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