Medicine is a unique, unparalleled window into a patient’s life. It is easy to lose sight of this amidst the day-to-day stressors at every level, whether you are a medical student or a physician. However, I was reminded of the intimacy of doctor-patient relationship just last week…
Medicine is a unique, unparalleled window into a patient’s life. It is easy to lose sight of this amidst the day-to-day stressors at every level, whether you are a medical student or a physician. However, I was reminded of the intimacy of doctor-patient relationship just last week.
As a first year medical student, I have a very basic (which is perhaps overstating it) grasp of taking a patient history, performing a physical examination, and thorough understanding of the basic sciences. Despite this, I am fortunate to spend half a day each week in clinic with a family doctor. As our rapport has grown, so has his understanding of my (again very limited) skillset. He will often send me into rooms ahead of him to gather a history and then perform whatever physical examination I feel is appropriate. Last Tuesday, as I walked up to yet another patient room, armed with only a chief complaint, I formulated my thoughts. The medical assistant’s notes read: high school aged female suffering from anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, such chief complaints often evoke judgement in health care. In fact, I could sense exactly this from the medical assistant who roomed her. She relayed the information in a dismissive manner.
Opening Allison’s (obviously a pseudonym) door revealed exactly what the medical assistant’s notes depicted, an anxious and depressed appearing teenager. She sat at the edge of the exam table, her gaze not leaving the floor. Her legs were nervously rubbing against one another, as were her palms, and her lips were pursed into an expression of pain. Quite simply, she did not look okay. Although I am not an experienced psychiatrist, which is who she was referred to, I was able to have a positive impact on her care. In fact, this required no medical knowledge whatsoever. I was kind. Simple as that. I patiently listened to her story, not much of which she felt comfortable sharing at first. However, with gentle encouragement and empathy she opened up more and more. As we talked, I learned that suicidal thoughts, which she was brave enough to tell her family about, led to them coaxing her to seek help. As a matter of fact, I was the first person (I am not going to use the term medical professional for another 3 years) to speak to her about her mental health issues. Let that sink in. This poor, troubled girl, desperately in need of psychiatric assistance and a danger to herself, began her journey toward recovery by talking to me, a lowly first year medical student. Had I been judgmental, lacked the necessary compassion, or really have been anything but empowering, perhaps this would have been the end of her journey. Perhaps she would have shied away from further medical interactions; a very sad thought indeed.
I did not have, and will not for some time, the experience to adequately treat her. What I do have though, and will always have, is patience and empathy for patients. As future physicians or current physicians, these are the standards we ought to always hold ourselves to. We never know what internal battles our patients are fighting, or we very well may know the full extent of them. Either way, there is no excuse to not always be kind.
Medical College of Wisconsin – Class of 2020