Medical students need to learn to be patients

Growing up, I rarely had a steady primary care physician. Every school-physical, immunization, sports injury, and sore throat was addressed with care and diligence at a family clinic affiliated with a major suburban hospital.

I opted to visit the clinic a few weeks ago for a minor concern but as I drove-in, I was attuned to the fact that the clinic I visit—my clinic—is a teaching site.

Before entering medical school I never gave any thought to the revolving door I am accustomed to. I always appreciated the care I received and the opportunity to meet the new and enthusiastic residents, awkward medical students on their first rotations, and the seasoned physicians responsible for teaching them. After all, it was my normal.

This time, I felt strange walking in and taking my seat amongst other patients in the waiting room. The medical community is a small community. Everyone is woven together by only a few degrees of separation. These connections become apparent on Facebook, LinkedIn, school events, and medical organizations’ social gatherings. I once heard a clinical professor say to a lecture hall, “I don’t remember names but I do remember faces.”

That quote rang through my head as the nurse called my name. What would this mean for me?:

  • A few years from now when I am on a rotation, will the physician who walks through the exam room door remember my face among the multitude of patients she has seen?
  • Is it unreasonable for me to be concerned about my privacy?
  • What if it’s a medical student—a peer—walking through that door?
  • How should I expect to be treated?

A few months ago, I would have been proud to take part in the teaching process. Presently, a patient and medical student, I felt unsure of my role and what to expect.

Stepping out through clinic’s automatic doors I began wondering why medical schools don’t address what it will feel like to be a patient again after you take your first steps into the profession. Even in my pre-clinical years, I understand that the professionalism physicians hold themselves to dictates that students and colleagues are cared for in the same manner as all patients. Moreover, clinicians are likely aware of and address how vulnerable we, as individuals, can feel.

Still, this conversation is important for students. It can lead to the budding of an understanding on how to empathize and adequately care for a minority of patients: caregivers. More importantly, it can recognize our humanity, set expectations for how to reconcile our roles with our needs, and address concerns about stigmas we all are aware still exist in the profession.

Now, I cannot help wondering how many medical students’ lumps go unaddressed for too long, how many STD screenings and HIV tests get put off, addictions get hidden, or how many mental health concerns never see the light of day because we never hold the conversion in the context of ourselves as patients.

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  • Kristy Sokoloski

    This was a very good article. One of my most favorite movies is The Doctor. It is a movie I would recommend that anyone see.

  • PracticeBalance

    The concept here is very true. I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor during residency, and undergoing major surgery, staying in a ICU, and suffering complications with a long recovery forever changed the way I interact with my patients. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, though.

    • Suzi Q 38

      My daughter is a nurse. She is learning to become an NP.
      I brought her to my post surgical visit with my surgeon the other day.
      I remember having a list of my medications and vitamins; then a list of questions.
      I was so impressed with the nurse. I don’t know that it mattered that she was a BSN or not. She asked me how I felt, looked over my list of medications, then wanted to see my list of questions for the surgeon.
      I started out with talking about something that was bothering me for quite some time.

      AT first, she tried to get defensive, saying, that I agreed to wait for the specialist…etc. I told her that I was never so scared about my impending paralysis, brought on by being put off for so long…I reminded her that I was willing to see his fellow…at any rate, our conversation have gotten “ugly.”

      She skillfully acknowledged my fear and talked about how they tried their best, given the situation. She looked at me as if she understood.

      It was great for my daughter to observe how to handle a patient with a complaint or concern.

      I told her: “Notice how she didn’t like that I was complaining at first, and started to get a bit defensive…then she realized it wasn’t going to work with a patient like me, so she changed her attitude a bit. She focused all of her attention on me; acknowledged my fears about my situation, then moved on about what they did do for me in a positive way.”

      The nurse was so good that I only had one or two questions for the doctor: “How is my spine healing? Is the fusion still attached?”
      These questions were answered by looking the xray on the computer screen. “You are healing well; just try to wean off of your brace a couple of hours a day at home.”

      With that, he smiled, shook both our hands, and was out the door, LOL. The nurse had made his job look easy.
      My daughter learned a thing or two during that visit.
      She got to hear my side of it.

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