Cesar Millan (a.k.a. The Dog Whisperer) is a person that I greatly admire and utterly respect for what he has accomplished and the value he has added not just to my life, but the life of many. The principles he teaches have helped me deal with not only my dog, but have taught me a lot about life in general. I recently watched a video where Cesar Millan spoke candidly about attempting suicide following the death of his beloved dog, Daddy, and learning his wife, Ilusion, was divorcing him. He reported that upon waking up in a psychiatric ward at the hospital after his attempted suicide, the other patients there would consult him on their medical care. This response by the patients is important because of the message that it teaches. Why would patients be more willing to trust a Mexican born immigrant who is often criticized by his colleagues for not having a formal education during a time of impaired judgement, than they are their medical doctors who have full medical degrees?
Anyone in the healthcare field has likely heard the saying “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Yet as physicians, we often become cynical and are taught not to fully trust what our patients say. Many people have tuned in to watch Cesar help people and their dogs make positive changes in their lives. It is evident how passionate Cesar is about his work, how much he loves dogs, and how hard he works to make the world a better place. How much he cares is evident in every show. It is seeing this on a regular basis that has made Cesar someone that people like and trust. Having a small private practice where I specialize in osteopathic manipulative treatment in New York City, I spend at least 30 minutes with my patients at every encounter. Seeing patients on a regular basis gives me an opportunity to build rapport and show that I care for my patients. My only agenda is trying to help my patients improve. I have started to notice that some patients ask for my advice over things that I have limited knowledge and trust that more than the specialist because they trust me. Once patients feel like you care and that your only agenda is the betterment of their health, then they are more willing to overlook things such as differences and trust you even about things that you only have limited knowledge over a specialist who does not appear to care with a mysterious agenda.
This a strong example of a concept called likability. As humans, we tend to be more trusting of those who are most like us. In this case of unfortunate circumstance, the psychiatric patients could relate better to Cesar because he was one of “them.” This explains why at a time in which one is considered to have impaired judgement, patients were still more willing to trust Cesar. Someone who has hit rock bottom can relate much better with others who have as well. I have noted this concept in my practice. Patients remember and tell others when I tell them stories of how I suffered with a similar issue as the one the patient came in with. As osteopathic doctors who are taught to consider mind, body, and spirit, spending a little time to find a way to connect with your patient can go a long way in being able to influence your patients. Searching for things you both may have in common and sometimes just addressing the patients by their name can improve your rapport.
Doctors, in general, do not have a reputation for relating well to their patients. Just remember that a patient may be more likely to listen and trust a family member, friend, or even stranger if they feel that person cares more. If as a doctor you do not find a way to connect with your patient, you will have little ability to influence your patients regardless of how much you actually do care. If you take the time and actually do connect, patients may be willing to overlook differences, trust your advice, and even be more compliant. That’s something that is very powerful.