I finally got what I asked for. I’ve entered into the clinical years of my medical education. Today, I started learning how to do a physical exam. We only began with the basics: learning how to greet the patient, do a general survey, and take vital signs. As my fellow students and I sat in a half circle around the patient, our professor talked about things we should be paying attention to, such as how the patient is sitting and even the clothes they’re wearing. We all sat around in our “professional” attire, white coats and black bags full of instruments, of which most of us barely even knew the names.
Up until this point in med school, I’ve had no reason to get dressed up. Since I live on a tropical island and the nicest restaurant I visit is a sub shop, I never have the occasion to wear anything more than a pair of shorts, a tank top, and some flip-flops. As I mentioned before, since I haven’t had any real patient interaction, my white coat has been collecting dust in my closet for eight months. I’ve opened my black bag to use my stethoscope and sphygmomanometer to take some innocent bystanders’ blood pressures, and I’ve smacked my boyfriend a few times with my reflex hammer (don’t even get him started about the time I decided to do caloric stimulation on him and poured cold water in his ear). But other than that, I haven’t really done much in the realm of what I’ll eventually be doing every day as a doctor.
So, today as I sat all dressed up in my white coat with my stethoscope hung proudly around my neck, I must admit that I felt pretty strange. I thought that doing real “doctor stuff” would make me feel like more of a real doctor. But oddly enough, it actually made me feel like more of a fake doctor. As I listened to the real doctor spout off every characteristic of the pulse that one is supposed to take note of when taking the vital signs, I felt a wave of inferiority wash over me. Right now, I can’t tell the difference between a bisferiens pulse and a pulsus alternans. Actually, I don’t even know how to correctly pronounce them!
When it was time for me to approach the patient, I felt like a little kid standing in front of my patient in a big white coat. I wasn’t a real doctor; I was just dressing up in my mom’s oversized doctor clothes. As I fumbled to find my patient’s carotid pulse, I imagined the sleeves of the coat dangling over my fingers and making me clumsy and incapable of finding the pulse.
I eventually made it through the exam without falling over or poking a hole in my innocent patient’s neck, but it certainly didn’t go as I had imagined it would. I sincerely hope that I only felt this way because I’m just beginning to actually learn about the hands-on side of being a doctor. I wonder if any of you med students or physicians out there has ever had this happen to you. Am I the only one who’s ever felt like they’re just playing doctor?