Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

The art of medicine: lessons from shadowing 


In one morning of shadowing, I learned the importance of conveying engagement with patients through both words and body language. 

As I inch closer to taking care of patients in the wards, I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of the phrase “the art of medicine.”  After the transition to direct patient care, my education will no longer follow the traditional classroom model of learning that I’ve known for the last 20 years. Instead, I’ll engage in learning-by-doing, grounded by real-life experience. As I begin to develop my own “art of medicine,” my journey will be shaped profoundly by innumerable interactions with patients and colleagues.  


Already, I’ve been fortunate to observe exceptional patient care. I recently spent a Friday morning in clinic with Dr. Patrick Walsh at Johns Hopkins. For over 50 years, he’s devoted his life to caring for patients, conducting groundbreaking research, and mentoring students and physicians alike.


Dr. Walsh’s intelligence and kindness were obvious. When a patient expressed concerns following a recent imaging test, he leaned in, maintained steady eye contact, and said, “I’m your buddy now. We’re going to make decisions together.” His tone and message inspired confidence. At the end of the visit, he gave them his home phone number.


Later, Dr. Walsh told me that when he was still operating, he talked to every patient he operated on, a total of 4,569 individuals, every three months for the first year following surgery and longer if necessary, coaching them to recovery. I did a rough mental calculation and realized that he’s made over 20,000 of these phone calls! He is truly a patient-centered physician who weaves web of support for each patient, one encounter and phone call at a time.   


What I especially appreciated from my time with Dr. Walsh was his keen focus on teaching. His availability and engagement extend well beyond his patients to colleagues, residents, and medical students. Before we began the clinic day, he brought another me over to the central desk to review the schedule together. He shared with his “three-part check” technique to make sure he’s prepared for each patient. He taught me to review the patient’s chart, check which room they’re in, and then verify that the information in hand matches the information at the central desk. It’s orderly, intentional, and systematic.  


He also uses humor to connect with patients, coworkers, and trainees. He pulled from his internal mental Rolodex witty phrases, riddles, and jokes acquired over a lifetime. He used humor to reveal his authenticity, engagement, and personality.


In one morning, I learned several invaluable skills to incorporate into my future career:


1. Be fully present and convey engagement through both words and body language.  


2. Be genuine when communicating with patients, coworkers, and trainees.


3. Share your gifts and share your time.


A morning with Dr. Walsh made me reflect more deeply about what it means to truly be dedicated to patient care. Witnessing how he gives support and confidence to patients and commits himself to the future of the medical profession makes me excited and curious to see what my career in medicine will hold.   











This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.