Dear future doctor: Remember what it feels like to be a patient

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Dear future doctor,

Please remember. Remember what it feels like to be a patient.

Remember the pain, remember the anguish of the unknown, remember the detours of being referred from one physician to the next, and how you hoped that this doctor would  finally be able to diagnose you and empathize with your suffering. Remember the agony of not knowing what caused the mysterious, writhing pain; however, at the same time being fearful of a potential diagnosis that could rob you of the life that you had dreamed about.

Remember the long intervals … in urgent care, in the doctor’s office, and in your own home while you laid in bed waiting for test results or counting the days until the next available appointment.

As you go through medical school and learn to be the doctor that you have always dreamed of becoming, don’t forget that you’ve been blessed at every step of your journey.

Yes, there have been times when you thought the odds were against you and there will be plenty more of those moments … that’s life. However, that’s just it.

Life.

You have it. You’re extremely lucky; many people wish that they could live the worst day of your life because it may be -just maybe- one of the best days of their life. Health truly is wealth. That’s not a silly cliché.

The next few years of your life will be full of exams and grades; however, don’t rely on last minute cramming, instead of truly learning, to get the highest scores. This next step is the foundation of the rest of your future. The day you eagerly put on that short white coat, you’re not studying for the “grade” anymore, you’re studying to save lives. The white coat symbolizes the commitment you are making to your patients. From that day on, your life will be dedicated to heal and teach all those you can. Not to make the biggest paycheck with the least amount of effort. Not to go to work at 9 a.m. and come back home at 5 p.m., on the dot. You should never be satisfied with knowing just “enough” because your next patient may not be saved by ”enough.”

Remember what your mother told you. “When you walk into your patient’s room, your smile and demeanor should make him or her feel halfway better even before you think of a diagnosis.”

Your job as a physician is not to just prescribe medicine and treatment plans; it really is to be your patient’s strongest advocate. To show compassion, always.

Life is fragile, it truly is. In a blink of an eye, everything can change. But, as a physician, you can be the barrier that prevents the change or the catalyst that tips it in the right direction. That is the power of your future profession.

Never become conceited or too confident in your skills. Having passion for your profession and being proud of your newfound abilities to change the lives of others is not bad thing. Nevertheless, always stay humble because there is always more to learn and room to improve.

Remember that these patients are fellow humans with emotions, passions, families, personalities, and intelligence. They just aren’t sick “cases” that you have to solve so you can go home. Remember that one day you will also be in their shoes – age, sickness, and death escapes no one.

Treat every patient with the dignity and compassion that you wish to have, listen to their concerns, and address their questions. Yes, you may be rushed for time. Yes, you may be exhausted after your 12-hour shifts. Yet, those extra moments with the patient makes a world of difference to his or her day. Those are the moments that test your character and truly make you great.

Remember, you’ve been blessed to be on this path. Respect the responsibility you’ve been given and always treat your patients as you hope to be treated.

Go out there and be the best doctor you can be.

Sincerely,

A future med student

Rafid Rahman is a premedical student.  This article originally appeared in the AAMC’s Aspiring Docs Diaries.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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