Doctors learn from the horse's mouth

[Published on 05 July, 2003]

A group of United States medical students have traded
stethoscopes for horse halters and sterile hospital hallways
for dusty equine exercise pens in a bid to improve their
bedside manner with human patients.

A western US ranch is the setting for an innovative
University of Arizona Medical School course with the weighty
title, Medicine and Horsemanship: An Introduction to
Human Nonverbal Interaction at the Bedside.

"This course is not about horses; it's about body language,"
said the head of the college's surgery department.

"Horses are very, very good at detecting those unspoken messages,
and it's a wonderful way to teach medical students to become
aware of their own body language."

At the Rancho Bosque horse ranch, the students get up close
to the horses, but do not ride them or use saddles or bridles
to control the nervous animals.

Instead, they learn and practise non-verbal clues -- such as
posture, eye contact, movement or breathing -- to soothe, guide
and encourage the 450kg patients into completing simple tasks
such as trotting in a circle.

Students learn that simple gestures -- such as gently patting
a patient's shoulder -- sends the message that they have a
genuine interest in hearing about his or her concerns.