I’m currently finishing up a gastroenterology elective rotation. Last week, I was working at the clinic, and I interviewed a patient who primarily complained of chronic diarrhea. After evaluating the patient, the attending physician agreed that the patient needed a colonoscopy, so I made him an appointment for a week later.
I happened to be in the colonoscopy suite the next week when he came in. By the time I saw him, he was already gowned up and lying on a stretcher, waiting to be wheeled into the procedure room. I walked over to him to see how he was doing, and I could tell that he was very anxious about the colonoscopy. “I’m scared it’s going to really hurt,” he said. I told him that it wasn’t going to be a joyride, but that the medications would help keep him relaxed. I then touched his hand and told him that I would be in the room the whole time. He smiled and said, “I wish you were my doctor.” I smiled back and told him that I still had 9 months to go before becoming a doctor. He replied, “I know, but I’ve just encountered so many uncaring doctors…ones that dismissed me and my complaints…but you’re the first one to actually listen.” I told him that I knew what he was getting at, and promised to continue listening to patients, even after graduation.
The encounter I just described is not the first one I’ve had like it. During my clinical rotations, I have met many patients who have illustrated the same kind of scenario where they have been dismissed by many doctors. Many of them have had all kinds of bad experiences with physicians, and when I show them even the smallest amount of compassion, they express deep gratitude to me.
Sometimes I think it’s really not that hard to be a great doctor in patients’ eyes, when so many patients have such a negative view of doctors to begin with.
So, there is something that I’ve wondered for a long time. When I first started med school, I believed that the world needed more physicians who actually listened to their patients. As a patient myself, I had encountered many doctors who were obviously not listening to a word I was saying. It made me frustrated, and it made me realize that there is a lot of room for improvement. I wanted to be a different kind of doctor–one who truly listened to their patients, and understood that very small gestures of compassion can go a long way. But I feared that the rigors of med school would beat all of those hopes and dreams out of me. I assumed that many young med students entered the field with these types of aspirations, but somewhere along the way they lost them, and that this is why I encountered so many uncaring doctors.
As I’ve mentioned before, I realize that as a medical student, I don’t have the time constraints that physicians have. I don’t have to see 20 patients in an hour. I also don’t have the same level of stress to deal with. I don’t have to worry about malpractice lawsuits, and I don’t have the ultimate responsibility for the patient’s well-being. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think it’s very easy right now to be a good doctor. I have the luxury of time, and none of the stress of being an actual physician. So, I wonder what will happen when I graduate. Will I eventually become the type of doctor that I once loathed as a patient? Or will I still have patients saying to me, “I wish you were my doctor”?