As a medical student on the inpatient Internal Medicine floor my job is not just to learn about history-taking and practice my physical exam skills, it’s to be a part of the team caring for real, live patients. I actually have the chance to make a difference. Since I’m a noob I am usually only assigned to a couple of patients at a time. This small patient load plus my low magnitude of responsibility means I have the time to sit down with people and tell them, in layman terms, what their diagnosis and plan is.
I’ve had two patients in as many weeks specifically ask me if I could be their doctor. While I know that the patient’s health would be severely at risk if I were their primary caregiver, it is eye-opening when a patient grabs your arm and thanks you for explaining their diagnosis in terms they could understand. What this tells me is that patient’s value our time as much as they value our knowledge.
As I continue in my career and get more accustomed to the lingo and ways of medicine I hope that I can hold on to the ability someone new to medicine has to educate in understandable terms. I want always remember how much patients value our time and dedicate myself to efficiency in other areas so I can still devote an acceptable amount of time to patient questions and concerns.
What has become most apparent to me in the past two weeks is that patients are confused. They don’t understand their conditions, which is terrifying to them. I’ve seen that if I can give them my undivided attention for even 5 minutes and hear their concerns and questions I can play a huge role in putting their mind at ease. So, while I know I will not have this much freedom in terms of time as my future responsibilities continue to expand, I hope that I can focus my care on ensuring my patients are informed and involved.
The role of a medical student on the healthcare team is undeniable. While I know it may be scary to have someone as young and new as me offering you healthcare, as a patient you should take advantage of the person in the short white coat…they have time to give you and are in a unique position to directly relay information to your doctor. I enjoy talking to you, I enjoy answering your questions and I have a true desire to improve your quality of care.
I truly adore sitting down with patients and ensuring they understand what’s going on. It overjoys me to hear a patient tell my attending “that girl right there…she explained this to me and I feel like I can go home and deal with it now.” Statements like this don’t make me happy because the attending may take a mental note for my clerkship evaluation, but because, for the first time since I started my journey into medicine, I finally feel like I’ve actually made a difference in someone’s life.