University of Minnesota

“It Isn’t Always Fun.” – Dr. Goodhands

Reproduced with permission of The Pharos, where this my musing was first published in the fall issue of 1996:

Every scrub nurse, and of course, every patient, senses at once whether a physician has “good hands.” But you will find no texts or treatises on good hands nor hear lectures on techniques for developing them. No professor in medical school ever mentioned elegant hands as a goal of training.

So what are good hands?

Warm, sure, good hands go right for their destination, calmly, quietly, effectively, non-threateningly. They quickly acquire the information desired and then move out with no excess motion. The good hands of a fine surgeon move with care and efficiency, like those of a skilled seamstress. These good hands are purposeful and responsive and have the lightest touch and greatest speed compatible with their mission.

In contrast, there are flighty, uncertain hands, always moving and fumbling distractedly over the body of a patient, seemingly unconnected to the mind of their owner. They are ineffective but merely annoying.

There are other, fawning, caressing hands that maintain inappropriate contact throughout an examination. Though the physician may be attempting to be thoughtful or friendly, these hands are felt by the patient to be cloying, rude, or even crudely seductive. These bad hands, too, rarely do damage; they simply cause disdain for their owner.

Then there are the determinedly “klutzy” hands that cause discomfort no matter where they are or what they are doing. Always with a little too much pressure here, a little too much brusqueness there, they bear down as if their nerve endings were buried deeply and require an invasion to reach their goal. These hands hurt people, leaving them moaning inside, and with sad, watery eyes. These bad hands offend people deeply and make them afraid of doctors.

Bad hands — fumbling, brusque, cold, or downright clumsy — are thought to be reflective of the limited talent or small spirit of their owner. Good hands — purposeful, warm, efficient, and kind — are perceived to reflect the good preparation and fine character of their bearer.


Surgeon’s Hands (courtesy of The Pharos, fall issue 1996)

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