Role model

(..) I was wondering  – you’re rather small, well, I’m not very tall either, but I’m always wondering, you’re so young, and the whole mandatory trying to draw attention to yourself thing during the coschappen, I always wonder what makes young people pursue medicine.

HE SAW MY PAIN! He was the first doctor to acknowledge that the coschappen grading process might be very difficult for shy-er people. I didn’t really say anything in his presence, I just observed, but when all the patients had been seen, I was subjected to a crossfire of questions. Where do I see myself in ten years? Why do I study medicine?

I met this very empathic surgeon during my surgery internship. He was the first and only one to ask the questions that actually matter. Of course, during the admissions process you write a little eassy on how you’ve always dreamed on becoming a doctor, but you don’t know anything about the reality of doctoring. Now you are on the brink of becoming one yourself and you find that you had never really put any thought in BEING that doctor and WHY. I just struggled on, trying to stand out in a class full of extraverted peers.

That afternoon I spent doing clinic with this doctor – ‘doing clinic’ entailed sitting on a stool and maybe palpating someone’s abdomen and taking a blood pressure – was an afternoon full of bad news. I never realized that that is a huge part of a surgeon’s day.

One patient stood out in particular, a a cheery fellow in a wheel chair who had been dropped off by a caretaker. He did not know why he was there, he just smiled a lot and said he already felt a lot better now, all the studies and tests had been quite uncomfortable but he was glad it was over.

We’d spent five minutes reviewing the chart before he came in, and this too, would be bad news. Advanced colon cancer, an urgent resection offered the only chance of curation, buteven then the prognosis would be very bad. The surgeon hesitated a little, but then plunged forward and delivered the bad news as sensitive as he could. They say a lot about callous surgeons but this man certainly wasn’t like that. He got up from his comfortable chair when our patient started crying, went over to his side of the table, and crouched next to our patient’s wheelchair. Quietly, he asked, what are you most afraid of right now?  – and took the time to hear our patients fears and worries.

To provide some perspective, the surgeon decided to introduce our patient to a colleague of his, who specialized in the specific operation that our patient would need. We were already behind schedule, but the surgeon didn’t want this man to leave without any notion of what was going to happen next. So we knocked on the door of the other surgeon, asked him to come with us and see the patient.

The contrast between these two men couldn’t have been bigger. This was a typical surgeon, big, muscled, loud. Of course we are going to fix you, sir! he bellowed and continued to spout well intentioned nonsense. You will be out of the hospital in no time, maybe in time to still catch some of the summer! Then he patted our patient on the head and left. Our patient was quite flabbergasted. Am I going to die now? he asked.

After the patient had left, the surgeon asked me what I thought. This had been one of the first bad news conversations I’d ever witnessed, so I was glad to be able  to share some of my emotions – I was very touched by how our patient took the news. I felt very bad for him, how he had come here expecting good news and then being hit with a sledgehammer.

No, what do you think?

I wanted to start talking about the patient’s feelings again, but he interrupted me.

Don’t you think that [colleague] was completely inadequate? He’s a surgeon, loud, expressive, while this man needed a calm reassurance.

And then he looked at me and asked me how I was doing, as an introverted person in the middle of a group of extraverts. I’m afraid to say that I lied and said I was doing fine. At the previous clerkship I had shared my feelings with our clinical facilitator and it came back in my grade in a very nasty way, everything I had shared in all honesty, wanting to become a good doctor, was used against me. So naturally, I now knew that I could trust no one and I just smiled and said that I loved medicine and that everything was fine. He didn’t take that for an answer, he asked me why did I go into medicine? Why do I love it so much? At the time, I just tried to give politically correct answers, but now I realize the lesson he was trying to teach m. Don’t try to become someone you aren’t, become a doctor because you want to. Otherwise you won’t make it, otherwise it won’t be worth the constant struggle.

I’ve worked with a lot of doctors throughout the years, but he was the only one who really recognized what I was going through, most likely because he himself was introverted. He didn’t say anything, just looked at me and wished me good luck on my journey of becoming a doctor. Now I see the truth and wisdom in his words and I am grateful for it, that he took the time to talk with me, one of the many, many medical students they see every day.


3 Comments on “Role model”

  1. There is such magic and power in being truly seen and witnessed by another person. And what a wonderful example and model he gave you of being a successful doctor. Such a different example than those provided by the boastful, and arrogant of the world. Thanks for a beautiful story!

    • CT says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I don’t always know what to write in response, but your comments really mean a lot to me.

      • No response needed! If we were sharing the same physical space, we would sit together in companionable silence, which would be delightful.

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