I promised I would write about what I had briefly mentioned in my most-recent post as the Patient Project. One of our first year requirements is to follow a patient with a chronic illness and learn about the process of disease and the affect long-term illness can have on a patient’s lifestyle and day-to-day activities. We are assigned partners, from amongst our peers, and given the name of our patient and their home address. Beyond that, we are left in the lurch! Very few people learn of their patient’s diagnosis until long after the first visit. The purpose of the program is to initiate training in humanism and encourage us to take a perspective on medicine in which we view the patient first and the disease second.
My partner and I met with our patient for the first time yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what to expect-I was looking forward to finally seeing a patient and getting away from studying and the classroom but I didn’t know how uncomfortable it would be to barge in on someone in their home and start barraging them with questions. Prior to visiting our patient, my partner and I had discussed how we wanted to handle the first interview, what questions we wanted to ask, and what our aim was throughout the process. For our first visit, our goal was to get to know our patient without asking any pointed questions about his condition. We wanted to know what he liked to do for fun, whether he had family nearby, and what he did for a living. Everything else was secondary or at least we felt we would be able to address all of his health issues at a later day. For the first day, we just wanted his autobiography–as he wanted to share it.
I have never been more pleasantly surprised or thrilled by an experience. Our patient was welcoming and eager to have us in his home…we were greeted with snacks; does life get any better than a homemade sugar cookie? He has participated in the program before, which is a true asset for us. He know exactly what he is getting into and he allowed us to pester him with our questions and was happy to elaborate on a lot of the issues we were hoping to discuss. While HIPAA prevents me from sharing his condition or any specific patient details, I can express my premature thanks for the establishment of this program and for dedicated and kind individuals like our patient. We are learning so much from him and his lifelong struggle and recognizing how we want to treat our patients in the near future. While spending almost 8 hours a semester driving to and from the interviews and organizing our eventual presentations and final papers may seem like one more commitment added to an ever-growing list, I cannot imagine a better diversion from the everyday or a better way to bring me back to why I am studying ion channels and struggling through secondary messengers. There is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel and through these brief moments of patient interaction, I remember why I was drawn to medicine in the first place. For me, it will always be about the patients and if memorizing one more cellular cascade or comparable minutiae will help me serve them, then I fully intend to push through to that point.
After visiting our patient, I spent the remainder of my evening in the hospital shadowing my clinical skills adviser and sharpening some of my physical exam skills. 8 PM to 1 AM is a really interesting time to be waiting for new hospital admissions and I was able to see some really fascinating cases and learned a lot in a mere five hour stint. Our clinical skills advisers are assigned at the beginning of the semester; they are family medicine or internal medicine docs, primarily, who are eager to help medical students hone their diagnostic skills and gain exposure to the implementation and practice of medicine. It was a really wonderful experience and I’m already looking forward to our visit to our adviser’s medical practice for another session!
Well, that there was part of my break for the evening! Back to learning about DNA before taking a much-needed break for my favorite television show (and simultaneous study aid) “Bones.” If you haven’t, watch it. If you do, I’m quite literally obsessed–challenge me on any trivia fact about this show and I can produce an embarrassing amount of knowledge on the topic. I’ll say it; what a nerd.
Talk to you soon!