Why Physician Bedside Manner Matters

Last updated: June 2019

Recently a friend asked me what she should look for in choosing an oncologist. She had a positive biopsy and would need cancer treatment. I began to think about the journey I have experienced over the last eight years since first diagnosed with blood cancer. Words cannot express the appreciation and gratitude for the expertise, support, comfort and friendship of my oncologist and his team.

Communication style and bedside manner

I believe the communication style and bedside manner of the physician have a strong influence over the relationship they are able to build with their patients.

From the initial shock of diagnosis, my oncologist's gentle words, insistence on a second opinion and repeated explanations were instrumental in helping me cope. I had difficulty with the “watch and wait” strategy and he listened to my numerous questions as I explored all related articles and research on follicular lymphoma. We both hoped that this ”watchful waiting” period would be longer, but soon realized that my tumor burden continued to grow.

I began chemotherapy with the latest evidenced-based agent, and we soon discovered it would not be an easy course of treatment. Throughout the monthly treatments and follow-up visits, I looked forward to the smile and upbeat attitude of my oncologist. He genuinely listened in a non-judgmental manner. I felt entirely comfortable complaining and sharing my most personal thoughts and worries.

Important characteristics of a physician

The following are what I consider important physician characteristics to promote a positive patient relationship:

Strong communications skills

Patients must be able to understand what the physician is saying in order to understand the treatment options and follow the suggested therapy. Listening by the physician is key so that subtle clues and concerns can be addressed.


The newly diagnosed patient is anxious and fearful. The physician must understand this and relate to the patient’s feelings.

Straight forward

As a patient, we need to hear the health information in clear layman’s terms. Such openness allows the patient to weigh all options and make informed decisions that can impact their life. Even as a nurse, my anxiety was overwhelming, and my oncologist made sure I understood all the issues.

Professional behavior

The patient must always be put first. Physician visits must be conducted with respect and good manners. Patients want to be treated as individuals. Explanations should be in simple terms.


Credentials and experience are important. Patients also want a physician who is not afraid to admit when they do not know something and will refer the patient to a more qualified doctor. I was reluctant to see another oncologist, but my physician made it his practice to recommend a second opinion.


Attention to detail is critical. My oncologist listened intently conducted a thorough physical exam which included many questions about symptoms or problems. Based on the findings, further testing and appropriate follow-up were planned.

Other factors that improve bedside manner

  • Not making the patient feel rushed
  • Making eye contact
  • Taking time to really listen rather typing into the healthcare record. This can be such a turnoff. I remember seeing a surgeon for another problem and found this a negative experience.
  • Treating each patient as an equal partner in his/her care. No one wants to be talked down to.

Now as a cancer survivor, I pray that my remission will continue for a long time. My oncologist remains supportive and a source of my continued cancer care.

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