Friday afternoon psychiatry didactic sessions are a holy time among medical students. A golden weekend rapidly approaches and the afternoon, typically spent trudging through paperwork, is instead spent listening to residents talk with minimal effort, on behalf of the students, required to listen. At the end of a frantic third year of rotating, sometimes it’s nice to just set the busy work down and take it all in. Granted, I’ll actually have to learn the info at some point before the test, but for one afternoon, it’s nice to be passive.
Now, this particular rotation was coming to an end and true to psychiatry’s form, our resident wanted us to reflect on our experiences. The prompt was simple, “What kind of doctor do you want to be?” It’s odd how little I’ve thought about that question over the last three years. I seem to recall a period of life, not too far removed, where that was all I thought about. Then, after acceptance into medical school, that question somehow became of little importance due to the enormous task of going through the formidable mountain of school that stood between me and “doctor-ness.” My time was much better spent figuring out what I needed to know for that day so I could learn what I needed to know for the next day. Things sort of go on this way and eventually I wake up in a hot conference room on the fifth floor of Central Tower thinking about what led me to medicine in the first place.
“What kind of doctor do you want to be?” That question carries a lot more weight hearing it the second time around. I actually had the chance to see plenty of doctors beyond the few I idealized while shadowing oh-so-long ago. By this point, I’ve seen things that made me cry and had moments that made me cringe. I started to find it a lot easier to think about the type of doctor I didn’t want to be, but then I thought about Drs. Ratcliff, Green, Oliver and Sheffield. The longer I sat in that conference room, the more I realized I knew exactly what type of doctor I wanted to be because I’d seen them over the past year.
I want to be a good doctor, and here’s what that looks like:
- Sheffield is patient — a good doctor is patient. He sits when he talks, listens intently and is genuine interested in the care for the individual across from him.
- Green is kind — a good doctor is kind. Compassion is something that he’s cultivated and empathy is something he exudes. Again, it has to come honestly, out of a true care for the patient.
- Chen is effective — a good doctor is effective. She knows what she can and can’t do. She focuses on fixing the problems that need to be fixed immediately, and orders the rest into a list to tackle one-by-one with the patient.
- Deblieck is humble — a good doctor is humble and educates as much as he treats, not out of a sense of superiority, but out of a sense of leveling the playing field for the patient. He knows that patient understanding can be both therapeutic and empowering.
- Ratcliff is confident — a good doctor is confident. He reassures patients when needed and moves decisively to appropriate treatments. His hands move with the steady swiftness one earns through experience and they themselves are reassuring. He is efficient with everyone’s time, out of respect, and earns all the trust he receives.
- Oliver communicates — a good doctor communicates. She speaks at or below the level of the patient. She includes loved ones when appropriate, and follows through on her promises and commitments. Patients trust that she has their best interests at heart after they see that she is honest with them. She sets beneficent boundaries for her patients and her life.
These are good doctors, and they are who I want to be … all of them.
My father had a saying growing up that I repeat like a mantra when I need to connect with someone, “Don’t tell me. Show me.” This is what all of these doctors I’ve listed have in common. They show us what it means to connect to our patients, to care for them as people and ultimately to help them. Sitting here during my psych didactic reflection, this is the only answer I have to what makes a good doctor, showing people you are willing to connect.
In March of 2017, I hope to be matching into an orthopedics residency. Much to the chagrin of my internal medicine and psychiatry colleagues, I fell in love with the structure more than the physiology of the human body. Perhaps I’ll never be able to parse out the difference between mood disorder with psychotic features and schizoaffective disorder, and I’m sure that at some point I’ll forget which medicines confer mortality benefits in congestive heart failure; however, I’ll be immeasurably better equipped to connect with my patients because I spent time in this small psychiatry conference room pondering the question that led me to medicine in the first place, “What kind of doctor do you want to be?”