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Teachable Moments: An Evening in the Emergency Room


I’m an academic and an educator. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I chose to be treated in a university setting. It felt right to me, that if I had to go through the experience of breast cancer, that my body would become a teaching tool. It helped provide some form of meaning to the experience. It is with this lens that I found myself regretting not calling out to the clearly first-rotation medical student while in the emergency room.

I sat on a chair, ice packs on my hands to reduce the pain from the blisters which brought me to the emergency department – toxic erythema secondary to chemotherapy. In the five hours I was there, I had consultations with an internal medicine resident, oncology resident, on-call oncology fellow, dermatology resident, on-call dermatology fellow, dermatology attending and the emergency room attending. The emergency room attending was being shadowed by a wide-eyed and yet shy medical student.

Looking back on the experience a year later, the educator in me has only one regret. I regret not explicitly offering the medical student an opportunity to feel the lump in my breast. At the time, I didn’t realize that the lump was temporary. I was undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Within the first two months of chemotherapy, the lump that I found during my daily breast exam while showering would slowly melt away, to the point where it could no longer be felt. I would mark the success of chemotherapy by how the very thorough radiation oncology fellow was unable to detect the lump on his physical exam. I had no idea just how temporary the cancerous lump would be. And so, I find myself wondering, had I offered up the lump in my breast as a teachable moment, would that medical student have become a better doctor?

Rebecca Hogue (2 Posts)

Guest Writer

University of Ottawa

Rebecca J. Hogue (Becky) is an ePatient blogger and flexible scholar. She is co-founder of Virtually Connecting, a PhD Candidate at the University of Ottawa and Associate Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Professionally, she produces self-published eBooks, and teaches Emerging Technologies and Instructional Design online. Her research and innovation interests are in the areas of ePatient storytelling (pathography), blogging, and online collaboration.