Skip to content

The power of human connection in healthcare: A pediatric physician’s reflection

By Jon Roberts, MD, Pulmonology, Cystic Fibrosis Center, Driscoll Children’s Hospital 

As a physician, I am often reminded of the profound impact listening to patients and their families can have on the care we provide. Recently, I came across a review from a grateful parent who highlighted the positive experiences they had with me and my team. Words and phrases like “the absolute bee’s knees” and “fantastic” were included, and it dawned on me just how significant our human interactions are in pediatric care. Despite the extensive training we undergo—medical school, residency, and fellowship—it’s the ability to connect with patients and families on a personal, human level that brings unparalleled satisfaction to this job. 

Learning through listening to improve the patient experience

One experience in particular stands out to me. I was caring for a young patient in the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU), and we faced a critical decision about whether to place a tracheostomy tube. The patient’s mother and I had differing opinions, and despite my best efforts to provide the highest standard of care, she ultimately chose to switch to a new pulmonologist. This situation was a stark reminder that even when we feel confident in our medical decisions, our patients and their families may perceive things differently. It emphasizes the importance of truly listening to and understanding their perspectives, goals, and fears. 

I bring these lessons into the room with me when meeting a new patient and family for the first time. I always strive to break the ice by connecting on a personal level. I make it a point to read the patient’s chart beforehand, looking for any details that could make our interaction more personable. For instance, if I notice that a patient recently sprained their ankle, I might start our conversation with, “How’s that ankle doing?” This often surprises patients—why is a pulmonologist asking about an ankle? —but it helps build trust and shows that I care about them as individuals, not just their medical conditions. 

Connecting with patients and families on a human level

In essence, our job is not just about treating diseases; it is about building relationships with our patients and their families. Their feedback is invaluable. Children, in particular, bring joy and laughter into our lives, making even the most stressful days worthwhile. Their resilience and spirit remind me why I chose this profession and motivate me to provide the best care possible every single day. Listening, understanding, and connecting with our patients on a human level makes all the difference in healthcare. That is the true power of Human Understanding.

Dr. Jon Roberts is the director of pediatric pulmonology at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is also the director of Driscoll’s Cystic Fibrosis Center, serving the children of South Texas. He received his medical degree from New York Medical College and residency and fellowship training at Winthrop University Hospital. He has been in practice for 18 years.