Andrew Summers, M.D. class of 2019
An elderly woman sat alone, hunched over with frail hands clasped together. Her eyes fixated on the wall, yet seeing something else. The air thick with worry, her face betraying her thoughts. She was afraid. The patient didn’t notice our entry into the small clinic room. The surgeon lightly touched her shoulder and softly spoke her name with an air of familiarity. Seeing the surgeon now, the patient quickly stood and grasped him by the arms, securing herself to the white coat.
With eyes closed and voice trailing she said, “It’s back.”
“I know,” he replied as he enveloped the patient in a long embrace.
Four words were exchanged between a long-time patient and her surgeon. They needed to say no more, as they already shared the most intimate of bonds. I realized that this wasn’t just an empathetic gesture, a social cue picked up by someone who genuinely cared for others. This embrace was different. Sadness and pain emanated from them both. This surgeon knew her. He had shared in her hopes, her fears, and memories of battles won and lost in the operating room. He had been both the original bearer of bad news and her latest messenger of hope. He had celebrated with her family. He had cried with them. She wasn’t a patient. She had become his friend.
The twenty-minute visit went well beyond. He held her hand the entire time.
Being witness to this encounter and reflecting on it throughout the first three years of medical school has redefined what the “art of medicine” means to me. As providers, we have the opportunity to become powerful agents of healing. Strip away the coat, medical jargon, the structural confines of our healthcare system, and the institution. Sit in front of your patients and open yourself to them. Listen. Be vulnerable. Connect. Know who your patients are better than you know their disease. It is through the process of purposefully establishing and cultivating true human connections that our work becomes meaningful. Every encounter is a precious opportunity. Don’t waste them. We have to ability to act on our patients in a way that chemotherapy, antibiotics, and surgery cannot.
Take the time. Become comfortable with running behind.
About the Author
I chose to become a physician because I wanted to shoulder the responsibility for making the crucial care decisions that impact people’s lives. I enjoy being absorbed in the creative challenge of learning and adapting knowledge and techniques to specific patient presentations in a way that will enhance the quality of their recoveries. While I have enjoyed every aspect of medicine during my education, I have found that there is no specialty that fits me better than orthopaedic surgery and will be applying this fall.
I have always enjoyed writing and am excited to contribute to the StudentSpeak blog. I am hopeful that my thoughts will stir conversation or be cause for some level of internal reflection.
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