“Listen to your patient; he is telling you the diagnosis.” This oft-cited quote from Sir William Osler, the 19th-century physician and chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, references the central importance of taking a history in medical care. There is no question that listening during the one-on-one clinical encounter endures at the heart of medicine. But listening is also a vital tool in many modern medical endeavors that Osler might never have imagined. The stories in this issue of Penn Medicine show how, across a variety of domains, even the experts do well to step back and acknowledge when they don’t have all the answers. When we listen to others, all of medicine is better for it.
The painful history of racial inequity and past abuses of minority populations in medicine is part of the backdrop in this issue’s cover story. It’s part of the reason why most large genetic studies have failed to include many people whose ancestry is non-European. As researchers at the Scheie Eye Institute sought to engage African American populations in a large genetic study of glaucoma, they did not limit themselves to just the biological questions at hand. They made a point of asking why the process of enrolling African American patients was uniquely challenging. They listened to the patients who chose to enroll in the study and to those who chose not to, and why. As a result, they learned about better opportunities to engage communities in research that will benefit them, and they translated that insight to make changes—such as demonstrating that a saliva sample was equally as effective as a blood sample in providing the genetic data they needed. As a result, some potential participants who said they were hesitant to give blood but otherwise willing, were able to be part of the research. Future discoveries will be better for it.
Listening is central to the story of the innovative design process for the Pavilion, Penn Medicine’s new inpatient facility slated to open in 2021. The team of architects and designers has integrated the views of clinicians and other front-line staff at every stage of the design process, even building a warehouse-sized mockup of a patient floor for these staff to practice their work in the new space. Clinical care in the new facility will be better for it.
And this issue also highlights a beloved Penn Medicine figure who could be fairly named our institution’s Listener-in-Chief. Gail Morrison, MD’71, GME’76, shifted this year from her role as senior vice dean of medical education into leadership of a new initiative focused on online education. As our story relates, Morrison has made listening to constituents a vital and ongoing process in her leadership, including in the initial planning of the overhaul of the medical education curriculum more than 20 years ago and the continuous process of feedback from faculty and students that has continued to shape the curriculum ever since. Medical education continues to get better and better.
Because listening is so important, I want to take this moment to remind readers that we want to listen to your feedback to bring you the best possible Penn Medicine magazine we can. If you have not already done so, please help us by answering our reader survey online here. You may also call the Penn Medicine communications department at 215-662-2560 to request a paper copy of the survey. I look forward to hearing from you.