Advice for graduating medical students

Since graduations will soon be upon us, this is a graduation speech that I’d like to give one day:

Hello everyone, and welcome. To the practicing doctors in the audience, I hope you can look back on your own graduations. To the med students, I hope you can look ahead. And, hopefully, everyone can look forward to what are some heartfelt insights.

To the graduating class: As you’re sitting here ruminating about the last four years, and as your future is illuminating in front of you, please think about the shoulders that you’ve stood upon, hopefully without stepping on too many toes.

Thank your parents, who have supported you in so many ways — starting with feeding you, clothing you and housing you, basic needs that we often take for granted. That support also includes emotional support, such as acting as a sounding board when you were sounding bored or stressed or anything in between. Think about and thank your first-grade teacher, who taught you how to read, so you could read the big medical textbooks that have been a requirement for you. Thank your piano teacher, who helped develop eye-hand coordination, also an important skill for doctors, especially for surgeons. Thank your friends who made this journey not only bearable but enjoyable.

You’ve learned everything from how to treat appendicitis to zinc excess, but the most important thing to learn is that what you treat isn’t as important as who you treat and how you treat them.

You’ll learn from your patience and your patients. The more you have of the former, the more you’ll have of the latter. We, as patients, often need a GPS to navigate the maze of medical care. That can be helped by a GPS (general practitioner — or — surgeon).

Patients might initially come to you for your IQ, but they’ll come “back” for your EQ. The former is measurable intelligence, and the latter, EQ, emotional intelligence, means you know how to use your IQ.

EQ is an idea that was originally mentioned by Michael Beldoch, but it gained popularity from Daniel Goleman. I found this out by consulting Google. Many of your patients will consult Dr. Google. When we do this, we’re not trying to usurp your intelligence; we’re trying to complement it.

EHR stands for electronic health record, but for me, it can stand for what we should all strive for, having “Excellence (in) Human Relations.” I could have said EMR, (electronic medical record), but I think “human” is the term that we should remember. We’re humans first, and doctor and patient second.

On the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a contestant can “phone a friend” and use it as a lifeline. That goes for real life, too.

You’ll be like a soldier, going to battle for your patients. That might mean speaking to an insurance company or tweaking a medical protocol. You won’t be literal soldiers of fortune, but if you make a fortune practicing medicine, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be your sole goal, but practicing medicine should be your “soul” goal. Soldier on.

R. Lynn Barnett is the author of What Patients Want: Anecdotes and Advice and My Mother has Alzheimer’s and My Dog Has Tapeworms:  A Caregiver’s Tale. She can be reached on Twtter @rlynnbarnett1.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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