The Language of Illness: Insightful account of how words damage health

Fergus Shanahan explores registers of patient and doctor and ‘politico-speak’ of policy

Doctors learn 10,000 new words in their first year of medical school but their textbooks make inadequate mention of the illness words that concern patients – burden, stigma, waiting, loss and despair.

Doctors learn 10,000 new words in their first year of medical school but their textbooks make inadequate mention of the illness words that concern patients – burden, stigma, waiting, loss and despair.

Doctors often bristle at their portrayal in popular media as depersonalised body mechanics, devoid of compassion and empathy, and lacking in any but the most rudimentary of communication skills. Yet it will be apparent that many patients, even while expressing gratitude and respect for the efforts of their doctors, do admit to dissatisfaction with their medical encounters.

In his excellent book The Language of Illness, Prof Fergus Shanahan provides an important explanation for the frequent failure of generally well-intentioned medics to provide a better caring experience for their patients.

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