Today I was on my long shift and feeling the blues as usual when I was asked to see a patient as part of gen med review. 

She was a lovely elderly woman who had come in for some obstructive jaundice 

As I began to examine her, she looked at me and said 

“You have healing hands. I can feel it.” 

She then turned to her relative in the room and said 

“She’s the most gentle doctor I’ve seen you know”

And as I was leaving, she asked me when she would see me again.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m really helping anyone. When I’m tired, I wonder if I’m good enough to do the things doctors do. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’d be suited better somewhere else.

But when I interact with patients like this lovely woman, and they tell me the smallest things make a difference for them, I am so incredibly grateful for me and being in a position to impact someone in that way. It makes me strive to be better. It makes me appreciate my apparent skill of treating people in a way that makes them feel comfortable. 

I am so grateful to have met that woman and to have made her feel that way. It made me smile. It makes other things seem less significant. 

I’m glad.

Which Would You Rather?

I am currently on my General practice rotation. So I’ve been placed at a medical centre under a supervising doctor for two weeks now.

I’ll be honest, not the best two weeks. Not an extremely friendly supervisor or a particularly enjoyable task set for me. I seem to be doing more work as a nurse at this practice than a 5th year medical student. And not very well, I might add. I have no idea what half the wound dressings’ names even mean. So when the supervisor asks for a crêpe dressing, I pretty much go looking for maple syrup.

I’ve only just started seeing patients on my own. And I think my history taking and examination skills are a bit rusty.

But something interesting happened in the last couple of days. My supervisor approached me and said that she would like me to come in during my holidays to assist her on surgeries. She also said that should I choose General Practice as my specialisation, she would be more than happy to take me on as a registrar during my training.

I was more than surprised. I thought I wasn’t doing well at all. I asked her whether I was performing okay. To which she replied “You will be good as time goes on. But I’ve been hearing from patients about how lovely you are. Your manner is very good”

Now this is very interesting to me. Throughout med school I’ve been hearing how great my ’empathy’ is and how well I seem to interact with patients. I never really get compliments about my clinical knowledge or diagnostic skills. Not that I’m turning this into a negative thing or anything because of course it’s important to have a good manner towards patients and I’m grateful that I am able to make patients feel comfortable. But that’s something I tend to think should be rather natural for everyone. Not just doctors actually. Everyone should have a good manner towards everyone else right? So why then, is this particular feature of my practice always commended? It just seems ironic. Is it that rare for doctors to be kind and caring towards patients?

And also, does the fact that I’m nice enough take away the importance of being a good diagnostician? How important is that? It’s kind of like the popular TV show House where Dr. House doesn’t care at all about his patients and treats them in a pretty disrespectful way, but once he cures them, they tend to be so grateful and thank him profusely.

So. Which is better? To be nice and kind but not a great ‘doctor’ or to be a brilliant doctor but not so much with the people skills?

This isn’t to suggest that I’d rather be horrible towards patients as long as I’m good at what I do, because like I said, I treat everyone I interact with exactly the same. The way I would like to be treated. And that’s perfectly natural for me. But when it comes to reports and I see an excellence grade for empathy but a pass grade for clinical knowledge, while others have it the other way around, I really wonder if they feel disappointed in only achieving a pass for empathy or if they believe it’s enough to have the clinical knowledge to a higher level.

I must admit I feel a bit disappointed in having a less than adequate level of clinical knowledge. But I think I’d be equally (if not more) disappointed if someone suggested that my manner towards someone else was poor.

So. Which would you rather be? I’d love to know.