Home » The Good Doctor: Tips and Tricks for Medical Students with ASD

The Good Doctor: Tips and Tricks for Medical Students with ASD

6 min


A doctor resting her hand on her patient's shoulder demonstrating her bedside manner.


This past month I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Dr. Rebecca Güler, senior learning specialist at UTMB, on working with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As a fan of the tv show, The Good Doctor, I found that this is a topic that I wanted to explore further as it relates to my own experience with students. Statistically, 1 in 45 adults has ASD, and approximately 1-2% of university students – who may or may not have a diagnosis. As such, it occurred to me that likely some of the students I work with may be on the spectrum and so I felt it important to continue this discussion in the Elite Medical Prep community. 


ASD can be understood as a significant impairment in social interactions and/or restrictive or repetitive patterns of behavior that may or may not be obvious. This is due in part to the fact that the ASD atypical brain does not function in the same way that a typical brain does and, therefore, processes social interactions differently. Research has indicated that people with ASD are better attuned to processing information in the form of data, which is important to consider when advising medical students on how they can more effectively interact with patients. 


If you are one of many medical students with ASD, or who struggles with social interaction and contemplates how you will appropriately interact with patients, you can start working on this skill while you are still in medical school or during clinical rotations. One of the most helpful ways that you can advocate for yourself is to ask your peers or supervisors to provide you with clear and actionable feedback when interacting with patients. Your strength is that you likely have a high level of data processing and detail retention. As such, you can ask your colleagues for more data points when they provide feedback as to how you can improve. For example, eye contact is an important element in patient bedside manner. If you are not sure how much eye contact is appropriate, you can ask your peers how many seconds of eye contact may be appropriate when interacting with specific patients. Another actionable point you can ask peers about is how to use body language in certain patient scenarios. For example, what is appropriate body language when empathizing with a patient? In cases such as these, a head tilt is considered appropriate body language and may impart caring in your role as the physician. 


As you start learning these actionable points, how can you practice them? There are a few tools that Dr. Güler recommends that may be of great benefit. Firstly, there are many medical television shows that you can use to your advantage. In certain scenes, it may be worth reviewing the facial expressions/reactions and body language of physicians in certain situations. You can study how the physicians on-screen relay positive or negative information, or facts by paying attention to the way the shape and position of eyebrows and mouths. Another tool may be to ask a family member or friend to help you practice doctor/patient scenarios and record the scene to review your interaction and receive feedback on how you can improve. 


For a quick and easy guide on emotions and facial expressions, you can find a helpful e-book by clicking here. There are other resources out there that may be of interest, such as the Rowan Path Program, and for relevant articles and information, please contact me or Dr. Güler.

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