While there is no way to choose our patients’ outcomes, we can certainly choose to be empathetic and compassionate regardless of their outcomes. Medicine without empathy and compassion is not medicine at all.
Empathy is a muscle you have to exercise just like any other. It is a choice. It’s something you have to study and practice and sometimes fail at and always try again.
I know this sounds clichéed, but as my third year of medical school draws to a close, I realize that my photography adventure is pretty similar to my third year.
Some of my friends and family are really fascinated when I tell them I’m on my third-year surgery rotation. It is hard to convey how glamorous and inspiring it is, so I’ve written a short summary of a morning in the operating room.
Daily labs are commonly ordered on hospitalized patients. While such tests may be indicated when patients are acutely ill and the clinical picture is unclear, there are many times when this is not the case.
I was called to a code the other day. Now I should probably clarify: as a medical student, I don’t actually do anything (unless they really need people for compressions). In fact, I wasn’t even in the room.
The very first patient I ever met on my internal medicine rotation was someone who hated being in the hospital. He took every opportunity in the following ten days to remind us that he was waiting to be discharged.
In high school, I was obsessed with wearing only vintage clothing. After hours of painstakingly searching every clothing rack at Goodwill, I would find a well-worn baseball jersey or an elaborately bejeweled Christmas sweater. I felt a sense of immense pride in reclaiming someone else’s memories — their winning games, their holiday parties – in an attempt to express my “uniqueness”.
The point of my story is to outline a scenario that many of us as students have probably experienced: being the target of a superior’s anger. This isn’t the first time that an attending or senior has treated me poorly and unfortunately, it won’t be the last.
“No, no, no,” I repeated, first silently and then as a whisper, as I frantically pushed the elevator button. The reliable elevator chime did not ring, and the button light would not stay on. “Great. Fantastic,” I sarcastically muttered.
The entirety of the third year of medical school is an act. If you want to be a good medical student, you are what your team wants you to be. Amenable, pliant, easygoing — even when inside you are a bitter angry little thing who’s tired of being pushed around.
“From now on,” our deans told us at orientation, “society will see you as a doctor. Sometimes you may not feel like one, but that is what you are becoming. This week marks the beginning of that transition, which will continue in the months and years to come.”