Dr Cadesky wrote a powerful editorial on the importance of stories in patient education [BCMJ 2018;60:343]. While I wholeheartedly agree on the effectiveness of using personal narrative to drive social change, I wish to also point out the importance of physicians’ language in engaging patients. Dr Cadesky encourages “[mentioning] our wheelchair-bound patients who have polio to vaccine-hesitant parents.”
As a physiatrist, I regularly work with patients who use wheelchairs. Many will tell you that these devices are not binding, but rather opening. Wheelchairs may help our patients do things many able-bodied individuals take for granted—move about on our sidewalks and in our parks instead of being stuck at home, conserve the energy it takes to walk with a disability so that it can be better spent on time with family, and participate in sports like wheelchair basketball for social and health benefits.
The language we as physicians use has a powerful influence on how patients see themselves, how families see patients, how our colleagues and medical learners see patients, and how patients feel their physicians see them. Thus, language can help empower our patients, or it can alienate them. I encourage my fellow physicians to consider their own unconscious biases toward their patients who are differently abled, and to reflect how this plays out in the words they use in clinical settings. Maybe we need to change the language we use in our stories, too.
—Ranita Manocha, MD, FRCPC
This letter was submitted in response to “Pseudoscience, anti-science, and woo: This time it’s personal.”
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