Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication


The purpose of this field study is to provide a descriptive analysis of the rhetoric of physicians (1) as they communicate with their colleagues, and (2) as they communicate with their patients. To obtain the first objective the oral presentations made during weekly conferences by the surgeons at a major hospital were observed for ten a>nths. The physicians' rhetorical training, experience, speech philosophy, and preparation are considered as well as the occasion of the speeches and an analysis of the audience. The speeches are evaluated according to their invention, structure, style, and delivery. The second objective of the study, an analysis of the communication between doctors and their patients was reached by means of observations, interviews, and questiori..Daires. The results of this study indicate that the patients are willing to accept the surgeon's title as sufficient credentials to obey his directives without question. By the same reasoning, the surgeons themselves often seem to expect their colleagues to accept their judgment without asking for documentation. While the doctors are less hesitant in admitting mistakes and controversies concerning treatment to their colleagues than to their patients, they effectively reason that the patients' awareness of such problems would be detrimental to the 1,a1:ients' welfare. The surgeons demonstrate confidence in their own judgment before their colleagues and their patients but many of them lack the fluency and ease of manner usually accompany such self-confidence in their formal speaking. The patients interviewed, for the most part, were satisfied with their co-.mication with their surgeon. Explanations for this satisfaction included such characteristics as the doctor's ''bedside manner," best illustrated by his demonstration of concern for them as individuals. The doctor gives verbal support to the principle that the patient has the right to know about his condition and treatment. Nevertheless, they are not always completely willing to disclose all possible information to the terminally ill, to some patients scheduled for operations, and under some circumstances, when a difference of opinion between doctors exist. The patient, on the other hand, reports a desire for all details but seems willing to wait for the surgeon to volunteer that information rather than to ask questions.