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5 Reasons We Need Classes on How to Talk to People

People are always going on about how America is falling behind in education, by which they mean math and science and spleling and al that crapp no one ever usses. But what about social skills? How to talk to people, how to deal with disagreements, what types of people to check for in a room before telling a dirty joke -- where are those classes?

"Oh, people don't need a class for that," you might say. "We just naturally pick that up. Unless we are autistic." Maybe that used to be the case. But now ...

#5.
Kids Don't Get to Play

At first, when I read this article, where the authors say their students "can't share easily or listen in a group," "have impulse control problems and have trouble keeping their hands to themselves," and "don't always see that actions have consequences," I yawned, thinking it was another one of those boring parenting articles making a big deal about kindergartners acting like kindergartners.

It turns out those are Harvard college students.

Getty
"Today, we're going to learn about using our outside voice."

The authors theorize that this is what happens when parents see every moment of school, tutoring, tennis lessons and piano lessons as "productive time" toward building their little future doctor/lawyer, and see free play as a waste of precious time.

Even ordinary kids whose parents think playing is fine are getting their playtime trimmed down as schools keep cutting down on recess and gym.

Getty
How I miss those endless hours playing "monorail."

And childhood is a pretty important time for social development, where kids learn cooperation ("You hold the bucket over the door and I'll get Kevin."), negotiation ("You got to be Batman last time, so now you're Robin."), how to handle hurt feelings ("They won't play with me because I have cooties?") and how to handle conflict ("No, YOU'RE a stupidhead!"). Honestly, the last one takes a couple decades to sort out.

The Bleacher Report
Many decades sometimes.

Anyway, you think, Fine, so growing up is going to be a little awkward for these kids but they'll be the ones laughing at the rest of us when they buy a yacht with their brain surgeon money. Actually they may not even get there. Let's see what happens when little Johnny -- violin virtuoso, Math Olympics champion and 5.0 GPA high school class valedictorian -- starts applying for med school.

#4.
Med Schools Are Testing Applicants for Social Skills

It turns out a growing number of med schools are starting to test applicants' social and interpersonal skills in addition to looking at their grades, test scores and number of useless clubs joined.

Virginia Tech Carilion runs applicants through a pile of eight-minute interviews with a different interviewer every time where they had to discuss some kind of hypothetical ethical dilemma, like how would you deal with a patient who insisted they didn't need a nose job or something. The interviewer would throw some curve balls at them, like, what if her nose was really ugly, and doesn't society have the right to not look at it? There weren't any right answers, it was just to see if they could deal with touchy situations without pitching a fit or pulling a Rain Man.


"If I don't hear the question, maybe I don't have to answer it!"

Med schools and universities in general have always made a big thing about looking for "well-rounded" students, but they've always had terrible ways of looking for it. Clubs are a joke -- I went to a high school that was a spawning pool for doctors and lawyers, and someone was always starting a very productive-sounding club like the Asian-American Debate Club or what have you, which did nothing all year but let the founder and all her friends put a "club officer" position on their college apps. There was an actual debate club, that actually did things, but seriously, like the college admissions officer would know which was which.

Even a meaningful, productive club is still a small and often homogeneous group, so while the kid may learn to talk to some people, they may never get out of a comfortable bubble. And again, it's absurd to expect the admissions officer to have any idea which type of club they're looking at.


The Buffy Fanfiction Club speaks for itself though.

The extremely insincere typical form-letter college essay doesn't help either, and a lot of hobbies just indicate that the kid doesn't study in a tower room every waking moment, not that they actually engage with people. Maybe they learned a lot about teamwork and heartbreak and jealousy and humility on that baseball team, or maybe they just stood in the outfield and stared into space. You can't know.

So instead of having the kid tell you what a think-on-his-feet diplomat he is, why not have him just show you? Makes more sense.

Which leads to the bigger question: Why is this so important to med schools? Well, because ...

#3.
Doctors With Social Skills Fix Patients Better

Now, those who haven't watched Patch Adams might think that the basics of medicine are making the right diagnosis and giving people the right drugs and surgery for it, and having the doctor be nice to you is sort of a luxury, but doesn't affect the real serious problem of your cancer or diabetes or whatnot.

The truth is, just like Patch Adams' painfully corny comedy consistently made patients' physical conditions worse ...


Tell me your blood pressure didn't go up a little.

... a good doctor-patient relationship can result in better blood sugar levels in diabetics. And doctors making patients feel important caused an observable decrease in symptoms a month later.

And patients aren't the only ones affected by doctor assholery or awkwardness. Not surprisingly, when doctors and nurses don't get along, patients don't do so well either. Doctors play such a big leadership role in a hospital that when they're difficult, everything is difficult, and someone fucks up a chart and they end up amputating the wrong leg or giving a man a Cesarean.

IMP Awards
Which has historically been appropriate in only one case.

We watch shows like House and get used to the idea of curmudgeonly doctors being impossible in a quirky, interesting way, but the reality is that people acting like that have probably indirectly killed people.

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