Doctors: Don’t care about your handwriting? You should.

A quintessential art of communication is a well-written note. A decent note is one that is self-explanatory as you read. However, to read, you need to understand what is written, and decent handwriting is vital. Unfortunately, neat handwriting is something tough to find, especially when the writer is a doctor.

While doctors may be the smartest students in their class with gold medals around their necks, immaculate in appearance, polite in speech, and humble in etiquette, they sadly lose it on one aspect of life — good handwriting!

It is a known fact that when you think faster than you speak, you stammer, and your writing gets messy.

But in some professions, like medicine, you don’t have the choice of being slow, and specifically thinking slowly.

A doctor is trained for four years in a residency program to develop reflexes that quickly fire red alert signs in the brain when they see a patient with an altered level of consciousness or fever. He has no power over himself to slow down in times of emergency. Instead, he acts faster to save a life. In this process, the one thing that mirrors his mental process is his handwriting, which at times looks like an abstract art piece.

I have always been notorious for my writing. Someone who has a passion for art but is miserable with the pen is how I have always seen myself.

I may not have the art under my belt, but what I do have is my clinical skill.

At work, I prefer being organized and focused … a mind preoccupied with the patient and their plans. I don’t realize how much the phenomenon of thinking faster than speaking and writing has on my daily doings.

On a sunny Wednesday, the last day of my rotation as a resident on the floor who sees consults. I was overworked and tired with caffeine in one hand to keep my neurons functioning and a stack of papers in the other.

There’s the chaos of greeting patients to thoroughly examining them head to toe, being overly cautious not to miss any finding that would change the treatment strategy. I rewrote my notes, and while doing so, it struck my mind how I missed the old review of medications.

I rushed back to the patient, grabbed her file, and started noting down her previous medications. The attendant stood next to me, amazed at what I thought was my speed; however, she broke my proud moment and uttered, “Doctor, do you understand what you write ?”

I paused, glanced back at my writing, and laughed. “I don’t,” I replied and re-wrote this time in a slow legible way.

In medicine, a simple rule applies to all calamities: If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Hence writing notes is extensive in this field compared to any other. Plus, constant scribbling against the paper makes the small muscles of the hand overworked.

Many times, the small discrepancies made on prescription paper could be bad news for the patient.

The way my patient questioned me about my written notes made me realize how important it is to pause and not rush things, even though I may be doing my job well. I am amazed that people around me will not remember me at how quickly and informed I am working or their treatment, but how I talked, walked, and wrote rather than what I wrote.

It is from then onwards when in a hurry, I practice the pause, especially when I have someone standing next to me who is inspecting how I work.

Natasha Khalid is a physician in Pakistan.

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