Being a ward attending: A job I am so lucky to have

I love being a medicine attending in the summer. It’s often more intense work since everyone’s in a new role. Bright, fresh interns. Excited new residents. And the medical students – the new third-year students who have toiled in the classroom finally get to focus on patient care.

Their enthusiasm over hearing a mitral regurgitation murmur, over watching a paracentesis, and, well, their enthusiasm over everything, is infectious. Perhaps it’s a bit of a vicarious thrill to be re-living that excitement again — the realization that we have such a privilege to care for patients and to make a real difference in their lives, of being empowered by knowing and understanding, and being consciously aware of our own growth as physicians. As a medical educator, July is a highlight of the year. Hard, but worth it.

On a recent weekend day, I was rounding with my residents and students. Working on the weekends is my least favorite part of attending on the wards. These are days that belong to the family unit; I always feel an anticipatory dread leading up to a weekend work day. Of course, once I’m there and working, it’s all about teaching, about patients, and it goes by quickly.

Well on this day, I had finished rounds with the team, but had something important I felt I needed to do before I could leave for the day and catch up with my family. There was a patient whose struggle with his illness had moved me, and I wanted to make sure he knew I had heard him, that I understood.

So, I wrote something for him: his story, as told to me, as received by me. Not his history of present illness, mind you, but his real story – his loss of his identity due to his illness. This was his suffering I needed to acknowledge. I asked him if I could read something I wrote him.

That moment, of reading those short few paragraphs, was filled with light. There were tears. There was an opening of wounds. There was sharing – so meaningful and real and deep -that it nearly blew me away. Nine years of being an attending and I am still able to be blown away by the absolute honor of doing this work. It didn’t matter that it was the weekend. That I was at work. I was simply filled with gratefulness for this moment and for the job I am so lucky to have.

It’s moments like this that remind me it is entirely worth it, weekends and all.  It is a gift.

Katherine Chretien is an internal medicine physician who blogs at Mothers in Medicine.

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