Science Book a Day Interviews Ranjana Srivastava


Special thanks to Ranjana Srivastava for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Dying For a Chat: The Communication Breakdown between Doctors and Patients

Dr Ranjana Srivastava was educated in India, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. She graduated from Monash University with a first-class honours degree. In 2004 she won the prestigious Fulbright Award, and was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 2005 and started practicing oncology in the public hospital system. Ranjana’s writing has been published worldwide, including in Time magazine and The Week, and in medical journals The New England Journal of MedicineLancetJournal of the American Medical Association and Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care Management. In 2008 her story ‘Ode to a Patient’ won the Cancer Council Victoria Arts Award for outstanding writing. – From Ranjana’s Homepage

Ranjana’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for you in writing this book?

I was moved to write this book after I began wondering whether a large part of the care that my colleagues and I were offering people was actually meaningful. This led me to being more observant during conversations with my colleagues, patients and families, confirming my belief that even if were providing care that was world-class, perhaps we could do better communicating our goals. These musings led to my book.

#2 – Is this communication breakdown a recent development? Or has it existed for some time in the medical profession?

Patients have argued for better communication for a long time but I think this deficit in the art of medicine has become increasingly more visible as there is an explosion in the science and technology of healthcare that has led us all to strive to keep up with understanding things. So patients probably feel even more left behind than they have previously.

#3 – There is so much information out there for patients to get through. What do you think public media can do to help alleviate this difficulty?

I think that we must prepare ourselves to have more realistic and rational conversations about what we can expect from healthcare. Whilst these are very exciting times in medicine, doctors do not possess the cure for all ills and it is unrealistic to expect that they will produce miracles. Media, journals and indeed, doctors themselves, can portray a more balanced and nuanced version of the potential of modern medicine without setting up patients to feel disappointed.

#4 – What has the response to your book been from your medical colleagues? 

To be honest, the greatest response has come from outside the profession. Many people have written to me or stopped me somewhere to say that reading the book helped them crystallize the health decisions they might make for themselves, an elderly parent or a suffering spouse. I think that as a doctor, it can be discomfiting to entertain the thought that one’s lack of communication could be contributing to a poorer outcome. But of course, this is not a book about apportioning blame but rather to engage all of us in a conversation about our future health. After all doctors are not immune from being patients!

#5 – Are you working on a new book that you can tell us about?

I am delighted to say that I am working towards a book aimed towards helping cancer patients and their carers navigate the whole cancer journey. I am hopeful that this will be a useful book when it comes out next year.

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