In advance of the “Tell Me More” project happening nationwide on Solidarity Day, we asked our medical student bloggers: Has there ever been a time when you learned something personal about a patient that made you think differently about their health issues? Here are their answers:
Jana Christian, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
One busy day at the perinatal clinic, I didn’t have time to fully read through the medical records on the young woman in room 9. Instead, I hoped to learn more about her and her pregnancy as we spoke. We discussed her plan for induction of labor and her pre-existing cardiac arrhythmia, but when I asked whether this was her first pregnancy, I realized I had failed to be completely present during the patient encounter. I looked at her face, and although she had heavy make-up and well-styled hair and nails that made her appear older, I saw how young she was. Glancing down at my records, I saw that she was only 16 years old. And yes, this was her first pregnancy. Almost immediately, my focus changed from routine to personal. Instead of the standard questions, I asked, “How are you feeling about your labor induction?” She told me about her concerns about the pain and length of labor, and whether she would be able to strain and push without exacerbating her heart condition. I did not have all the answers, but reminding myself of her age and the feelings of joy and fear that come with a first pregnancy allowed me to reframe the discussion to be more productive for this young woman and her needs in that moment.
J. Chika Morah, University of Toledo College of Medicine in Ohio
I interacted with many patients while working in a hypertension clinic. One particularly pessimistic patient moved and spoke very slowly and was apathetic about her non-compliance with her medication. I began asking questions about her life experiences, and soon she told me about her son’s recent injury. He was in a car accident and completely paralyzed from the waist down. She was forced to quit her job to stay home and take care of him. Her once vibrant, athletic son was now completely helpless. Her behavior was now obviously due to the fact that she was depressed.
Eduardo Salazar, The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at a clinic and performed an HIV screen on a patient. She was very uneasy about the test, and stared nervously over the test strip while I ran out to do some other duties. I cam back to the read the results and saw her pacing across the room. After I told her the results were negative, I learned she had anxiety, and that knowledge completely changed my outlook on her reaction to the test. That vital piece of information totally flipped the dynamic of her clinic visit, and I understood her behavior much better for the rest of her appointment.
Natalie Strokes, A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona
At clinic, there are several different types of appointments you encounter. Some patients are only there for simple medication refills. Some are children with flu-like or strep throat symptoms. Others can be OB checks, diabetes or hypertension check-ups, and well-child appointments. In every encounter, I always expect the unexpected. Every person has a story that contributes to his or her health. Each time a patient opens up to me, I am astounded by their trust. It is often only their first or second time meeting me, a medical student they didn’t necessarily expect to see at their scheduled doctor’s appointment. I can think of several patients’ stories that have greatly impacted my perception of their health. From those patients, I have learned to expect the unexpected, and sometimes dig deeper into a patient’s history to try to truly understand where they are coming from, or what barriers they face that affect their health.
See more Q&A posts with our medical student bloggers