By Alexander Bolt
The days of doctors making home visits may have come and gone but the personal side of medicine is still with us. Humanism in medicine is a growing trend and it emphasizes maintaining the ability to connect with patients by remembering that we all experience pain and suffering. The following posts from April center around the vulnerable, human side of the medical profession, covering everything from how the new MCAT test has been revamped to vet aspiring doctors for more than just scientific knowledge, to the heart-wrenching eyewitness accounts of doctors who lost patients in spite of their best efforts.
Writing a blog post on Project Millennial, Karan Chhabra and Allan Joseph applaud the new MCAT for putting “social science, psychology, and the humanities on the same plane as pure science,” because the medical community now demands this. But, according to Chhabra and Joseph, progress will be hindered unless “admissions committees firmly commit to selecting ‘broader’ applicants in all aspects of their applications.” The authors have given much thought to how the MCAT could best prepare future doctors for careers in medicine and they will hopefully continue to provide insight.
In a blog post for in-Training, Katie Taylor, a 2nd year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells us about the challenge of learning medical terminology in medical school and how, after learning it, one may know how to communicate clearly within the profession but still struggle to effectively communicate to patients who don’t understand the jargon. Taylor stresses the need for doctors to be good educators and good translators. Point taken: To maintain a human connection with their patients, doctors should remind themselves what it was like to not know anything about medicine.
Next, we get an inside look at the hard reality doctors face when their patients pass away. Internal medicine resident Jeff W writes an in-depth post on his personal blog, JeffreyMD, describing the anguish he felt after a patient named David died despite Jeff’s best efforts. We thank Jeff for his honesty, and for reminding us that our doctors experience grief with us during tragedy.
On a slightly more light-hearted note, Olivia Lacny, a 2nd year pre-med student at the University of Virginia, compares her commitment to being a doctor to the commitment of a long-term relationship. In her post on Aspiring Docs Diaries, Lacny writes, “My passion for health and for people is what propels that pep talk I give myself before every exam. I’ve spent more nights crying over these classes than I ever have over a boy. Sad? Maybe a little. But it’s a choice—my choice, the only choice.” We hope to hear more about her journey through the medical education continuum.
In a post from someone a bit further along, Ken gives us a glimpse into the personal side of the PhD. Ken writes on his blog, sidenote, questioning why and whether MD/PhD students should go into research. He mentions the lower pay of researchers, who see patients only 25 percent of the time; and the rigor of their work. “PhD students are a pyramid scheme. You’re working under an established scientist, running ragged for roughly the price of peanuts with only a slim possibility that you’ll actually make it to the point where you can run your own lab. In PhD-land they really put you on an island, to sink or swim based on your own personal brain and will power,” he writes. A new dad, Ken’s yearning to spend more time with his baby daughter is palpable.
Linda Pourmassina, an internal medicine physician at the Polyclinic in Seattle, offers a brief message in free verse form to a patient on her blog, Pulsus. Here it is in its entirety:
I’m still up…
and reviewing your chart.
Trying to find out what ails you.
Just thought you should know.
I am not Marcus Welby.
But I am your primary care doctor.
Medicine in the Trenches tells an anonymous doctor’s sad story about the death of a patient and the touching final exchange between the patient and his wife of 45 years. The doctor shares the most personally challenging side of the medical profession, saying that, while a career in medicine requires extremely hard work, the hardest part of medicine is dealing with the death of patients.
Finally, Sophia Davis, a 1st year medical student at Oregon Health & Science University, says she plans to avoid burnout during her career by channeling humanism. Writing on OHSU StudentSpeak, Sophia says, “The expression of humanism, it seems, demands a certain rawness of emotion and witness to our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of those around us.” Sophia’s early devotion to her future patients is admirable and her long-term thinking will serve her well.
Despite the often somber tone, these posts are an uplifting reminder that, in the eyes of our caretakers, we are not just patients on an assembly line – even the most seasoned doctor feels a connection with those in need.
Chart Review is a monthly roundup of posts from blogs about academic medicine, whether from the perspective of student, resident, faculty member, dean, or administrator. Medical schools and teaching hospitals provide fertile ground for innovative responses to health care challenges. We are pleased to highlight some of the best here, and hope you will send us your favorites as well. As always, we encourage cross-posting.