Physicians make lasting impressions

July 9, 2010

Through practice, I've come to realize that my influence and interactions matter with every personal encounter with patients.

A beautiful baby girl is crying lustfully at the warmer. At least that is how the nurses phrase it. Lustful for what? The much warmer and quieter womb? I don't blame her. I could use one of those right about now.

I have the stethoscope in my ears when I hear the mother ask a question. "What was that you said?" I ask. "What should you name the baby?" She nods shyly, eyes down.

THREE YEARS LATER

Fast forward to three years later. I am in the clinic, working my way through a busy day of patients. I see a new patient on my schedule for a 3-year-old well child check: Kimberly Elaine Moua (not her real last name).

Right then and there, I changed the way I interact with patients, no matter how many babies I deliver in a night, or how many Pap smears I do in a week, or how many routine phone calls I make to patients to tell them their lab test results are normal. I know that my influence and interactions matter. They matter to the person (notice how I didn't say "patient?") on the receiving end.

I may find medicine routine at times, but it is not routine to the person it is happening to. Patients deserve kindness, patience, and a sensitive response to their concerns. I must make a mindful choice to care about every single encounter.

A VOW FOR THE PRESENT AND FUTURE

I vow to not make the same mistake I made with Ms. Moua, thinking of her as just another woman in labor with another baby to deliver and then another delivery summary for me to dictate. The part that struck me the hardest was how much I must have mattered to her that night, a stranger who was part of one of the most intimate moments of a woman's life.

I may have delivered a dozen babies that night. I doubt I ever would have remembered that night at all, certainly not delivering Ms. Moua's baby girl, had it not been for this experience.

Many encounters during the course of a busy day may not make an impression on me at all, but I am now certain that they can make a lasting impression on my patients.

The author is assistant director of the Duluth Family Medicine Residency Program and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School–Duluth Campus. Send your feedback to medec@advanstar.com
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