TODAY   |  May 06, 2013

Med students taught bedside manner using horses

For America’s next generation of doctors, bedside manner can fall by the wayside in the first few years of medical school. But one doctor in Arizona is hoping to change that by offering a first-of-its-kind class using horses to instill compassion. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> doctor how do you learn the art of bedside manner? nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman is here with a look at an innovative program.

>> i hear from medical school professors all the time say students come in eager and impassioned about helpg others and they leave cynical and harsh doctors. one doctor in arizona is trying to change that by offering a first of its kind class for young medical students in a place you just wouldn't expect.

>> nicto meet you.

>> repter: dr. alan hamilton isn't your typical neurosurgeon. after mentoring young physicians for 25 years he's come to believe that the needed medicine is not another technological advance but a return to the basic principle of communication so instead of just teaching students in a hospital, he brings some here.

>> breathe and relax.

>> to a corral. how does the professor of neurosurgery end up with two horses?

>> i moved out here specifically to do neurosurgery by day and horses by night. we're going to find a place to introduce ourselves where it's safe.

>> reporter: he's pioneered a unique class for first year medical students at the university of arizona medical center teaching every kind of skill they would need to approach a patient but in this class, the patient is a horse.

>> i put my arm around him like this so the whole time even when i go through his blind spot he knows where i am. the whole thing started one day, i was in a hurry, we had a case in the emergency department , i was delayed getting to clinic and we burst into this room we were in a hurry and this woman screamed when we walked into the room because we came in so fast, i just remember thinking to myself, boy, i never would have done that, if that was a horse.

>> reporter: a lesson this seasoned surgeon wishes he had learned at an earlier stage in his career, and because of that, he's determined to make an impact on the young doctors of tomorrow.

>> i'm studying books instead of focusing on patient care and this is one class i could do as an elective to learn how to better interact with animals and learn how to use my body language to interact with patients.

>> now he's making eye contact with you because you approached him in a very sensitive way.

>> it's a lot like a patient.

>> yes.

>> they even learn the art of giving immunizations.

>> pull back out, rub it, nicely done.

>> reporter: hamilton wants to instill a different kind of knowledge in america's next generation of doctors, helping them to overcome fear and build confidence. do you think this kind of program can improve the doctor/patient relationship?

>> absolutely. but i'll tell you probably more important is it saves doctors. our salvation is going to be to go back to what really makes us fulfilled, which is this essence of human/human interaction and the ability to take somebody in the most dire of circumstances and say grab my hand, i know where we're going. we're in this together.

>> dr. hamilton 's class has been offered since 2001 and similar courses are offered at stanford universi and the university of medicine dentistry of new jersey, it say real lesson in the art of communication from animal to man and i tell you these students learned a lot.

>> i love other universities are picking up on it.

>> really cool.