I saw two patients this week – I was terrified. It had been a long time since I talked to a real patient and I didn’t want to mess anything up or say something really stupid. Luckily for me, those patients were super nice and had actually volunteered to let me practice. They allowed me to take medical histories and perform full physical exams, even though they’d been poked and prodded so many times during their hospital stay.
Student Nurse- Life at St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey, 1943
Balancing patient care and medical education has always been a tricky issue. No one wants to be the guinea pig for a brand-new medical student. On the other hand, we want capable, experienced doctors when they finish training. So how do we reconcile that? No amount of book studying or simulations with mannequins prepares you for the real world. Many medical schools hire actors to pretend to be patients, but we don’t see the very sick patients with sepsis or pneumonia unless we go to the hospital wards. So somebody has to be their first, or second, or third…
As students, we are grateful for the patients like the ones I saw, who generously allow us the opportunity to learn, as well as take care of them. And we do contribute to their care, I promise! Med students often carry the fewest patients (compared to nurses, residents, and attending doctors who could be covering the entire floor!), so we have much more time during the day to get to know them and learn everything that’s been going on. Then we pass along the info to our superiors, who go in and double-check details or do the stuff we forgot about.
Medicine is an apprenticeship, and our mantra for learning is see one, do one, teach one. (Ok I’m exaggerating – maybe more like 20.) It seems quite daunting at first. We achieve competency through experiences, and eventually we gain the confidence and skills to practice medicine alone. However, we also learn how to learn. The medical field is always advancing and changing, so we must keep up, even if there is no teacher guiding us in the future. It’s a never-ending journey.
I’ll fully admit that I am a little nervous about anything new that I haven’t learned about or can’t do. Some of my classmates seem to jump right into it, but that’s just not me (unless I’m manic…) I tend to be more cautious and reserved, choosing to watch many more times before feeling comfortable enough to start trying. It sucks to be the “slow one” when grades and evaluations get handed out, but I’ve decided I’m okay with that. Because in the end, I’ll have learned everything too – thanks to my wonderful patients.
Images sourced from WikiCommons: (top photo) Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Stone Richard; photograph D 13888 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24378701 (bottom) By Bhadani at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31775731