The evils to say it

How do you tell a patient they have a serious illness? To help future doctors find the right words, Montpellier's Faculty of Medicine has chosen theater.
"You have cancer". The words are harsh. They sound like a verdict... Every doctor has had this experience: it's not easy to announce a serious diagnosis to a patient. "When it comes to human relations and communication, there is a real lack of training for doctors."deplores Marc Ychou. But these pitfalls could be avoided "by not only providing future doctors with knowledge and know-how, but also by cultivating their interpersonal skills"continues the oncologist. He has found an original way: he has chosen to use theater.

The human dimension

For the third year running, fourth-year medical students are taking part in workshops organized in conjunction with the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts Dramatiques. The principle of these very serious games is to put them on stage in the role of the doctor, opposite professional actors who play the part of the patient, under the watchful eye of Marc Ychou and director Serge Ouaknine. "The students have a compelling desire to tell the medical truth. We need to bring them back to the human dimension," explains the man of the theater. We also have to teach them to simplify their words, avoiding medical jargon that is sometimes incomprehensible to the patient. " Theatrical methods help doctors to develop empathy without focusing on the diagnosis," stresses Serge Ouaknine. Do future doctors lack empathy? On the contrary ," protests Marc Ychou. They feel great empathy for the patient. They just have trouble managing it.

Finding the right words

Faced with a cast of thrillingly truthful professional actors, the students soon find themselves confronted with difficult situations. How do you tell the parents of 9-year-old Camille that their daughter is suffering from leukemia? This is where the advice of the oncologist and director comes into its own. "It teaches us the importance of relationships and dialogue. We try to choose the right words, the right intonations, the right gestures. It's a very enriching experience," Jean-Baptiste enthuses afterwards. An enthusiasm shared by the vast majority of future doctors. " When we're confronted with these situations in real life, we won't put our foot in it, we won't do everything wrong," concludes Bastien.