Dear patient: Apologies from your medical student


I am sorry that you are in the hospital. You are feeling ill. The noises are loud, people are walking in and out of rooms, and you aren’t sure of what to expect.  You are probably nervous.  This whole situation is a disturbance to your life. You would rather be at home — I can understand that. Few people want to be in the hospital. I don’t know what brought you here, but I will do my best to listen to your story.

I am sorry that I wake you up so early. I saw you sleeping; this is probably the first time you have been able to fall asleep since you got here. The nurse had to check your vitals a few hours ago. The place is unfamiliar, and you were tossing and turning for most of the night.  I quietly call your name and place my hand on your arm. This is the only chance I will have to speak with you before I meet up with the team.

I am sorry that I ask you many questions. I’ve been asking you about your poop every day. You must be getting tired of talking about it. You just answered these questions for the nurse, the resident, and the consulting physicians. I know repeating your story can get exhausting. I read their notes, but I want to hear it from you to make sure nothing is missed. I ask you what you think is happening; I want you to feel respected and heard. I have more time to sit and talk to you than some of the other members of my team, and I want to help address all of your health concerns, not just the one that brought you here.

I am sorry your privacy is limited here. There is only a curtain separating you and the other patient. You are laying there in the hospital gown, slowly pulling up your blankets. I will sit close to you and try to talk quietly, so others cannot hear our conversation. You are tucked in warmly. I ask to lift your blankets so I can do a physical exam. I will try to keep you covered. I will replace your socks and readjust the blanket just like you had it.

I am sorry that I don’t know all of the answers. You ask me when you will be able to go home. I will have to ask my attending. I enjoy talking with you about your labs and the pathophysiology of your disease, but I don’t claim to know everything. I will look it up, confer with my team, and come back to you with an answer. When we talk, I try to limit my medical jargon, but sometimes it slips in. I am working on it. I will continue to learn and increase my knowledge base so I can answer more of your questions.

I am sorry that you are in the hospital and that I woke you up early. I asked you many questions, there was limited privacy, and I didn’t have all of the answers.  You always have the right to say that you would prefer not to be seen by a student, however, if you do choose to open up to me and tell me about your pain, fears, hopes, and concerns, I pledge to be your biggest health advocate and that is something I will never apologize for.

Jennifer Chevinsky is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @jchevinsky. She is the creator and moderator of @BioethxChat on Twitter.

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