Parent-physician relationships: What parents of children with cancer have to say

Andrew C. Richards (2004)

As a parent, there are probably fewer life events as terrifying as hearing that your child has cancer. For such parents, the relationship they develop with their child's oncologist plays a critical role in the child's treatment and in the way the child and family manage the crisis. Surprisingly, many parents and patients manage this life-threatening crisis relatively well, and report that it is, in large part, the relationship with their physician that makes the difference. What is it about certain physicians that can make that difference? What are the physicians' qualities and behaviors that help create an out-of-the-ordinary, healing relationship with patients and their families? This study attempted to capture parents' voices about what makes their children's oncologist special, and to elucidate those qualities and behaviors that parents perceive as contributing to positive parent-physician relationships. Four dimensions were identified by parents as being critical to the development of a positive relationship with their child's oncologist. These are that the physician needs to (a) be available, (b) be compassionate, (c) believe in, and have a commitment to restoring, the child's health and well-being, and (d) show respect for and value the patient and family. While these results support what has been written on the value and features of patient-physician relationships, this study went one step further in using parents' point of view, and most importantly, capturing their voices, to uncover physician qualities that make a difference. Such findings will add to the body of knowledge in this area of study, and can be used to further educate medical school students and physicians, about the power and value of the parent physician relationship, as well as the specific features that seem to promote it.