Using Normative Rhetorical Theory to Identify Dilemmas and Responses in Internal Medicine Patient-Provider Communication

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Health Communication


Drawing on normative rhetorical theory (NRT), we examined communication dilemmas that internal medicine residents (IMRs) experience when interacting with patients and responses they adopt to manage these dilemmas. We conducted semi-structured, intensive interviews with 15 IMRs and analyzed the data using the phronetic iterative approach. Findings suggested that IMRs experienced two interpersonal dilemmas: (a) asserting expertise while respecting patients and (b) discussing patient behaviors without indicating deviance. The two dilemmas were more salient for international IMRs who were less familiar with the local culture and embraced a different perspective of the IMR-patient relationship. The two interpersonal dilemmas were connected to a supra-level dilemma of practicing tasks required by evidence-based medicine while being patient-centered. IMRs reported engaging in an interpretive lens to view patients as “people” and communicative responses to manage the dilemmas. By applying NRT to a novel context, our findings demonstrate the impact of macro-level paradigms on IMRs’ conflicting purposes in medical encounters and offer practical implications for communication interventions for IMRs.

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