Opinion Paper

Should we use philosophy to teach clinical communication skills?

Berna Gerber
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 8, No 1 | a1292 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v8i1.1292 | © 2016 Berna Gerber | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 September 2016 | Published: 16 November 2016

About the author(s)

Berna Gerber, Division of Speech-, Language- and Hearing Therapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch and Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


Effective communication between the doctor and patient is crucial for good quality health care. Yet, this form of communication is often problematic, which may lead to several negative consequences for both patients and doctors. Clinical communication skills have become important components of medical training programmes. The traditional approach is to teach students particular communication skills, such as listening to patients and asking open-ended questions. Despite their importance, such training approaches do not seem to be enough to deliver medical practitioners who are able and committed to communicate effectively with patients. This might be due to the pervasive negative influence of the medical profession’s (mistaken) understanding of itself as a natural science on doctor–patient communication. Doctors who have been trained according to a positivist framework may consider their only responsibility to be the physical treatment of physical disorders. They may thus have little regard for the patient’s psychological and social world and by extension for communication with the patient and/or their caregivers. To address this problem, I propose a curriculum, based on the academic field of philosophy, for teaching clinical communication.


Doctor-patient communication; positivism; communication skills training


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Crossref Citations

1. ‘The Good Doctor’: the Making and Unmaking of the Physician Self in Contemporary South Africa
Michelle Pentecost, Thomas Cousins
Journal of Medical Humanities  vol: 43  issue: 1  first page: 43  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1007/s10912-019-09572-y