I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

Shadowing a Physician

Friday, August 16, 2013

This week I was able to shadow Dr. David Bates, the chief of general medicine at Brigham & Women's hospital and a very well-known researcher in the clinical informatics field and it was such a great experience. I got connected with Dr. Bates through my job at Partners Healthcare; he is the head of my department and although I don't work with him directly, he was kind enough to respond to a blind email I sent inquiring about shadowing opportunities.

When I arrived at his office Wednesday morning at 8:30 AM I had no idea what to expect. My only prior experience working in a hospital had been volunteering in an orthopedic trauma clinic which was very fast-paced and where patient interaction consisted of physical exams, a quick consult and that was it. Observing Dr. Bates was completely different. It was clear to see that he had developed strong relationships with all of his patients and was interested in hearing about more than just their medical issues. He was able to ask them about specific ailments without referring to their charts and remembered medications and issues they may have had with past treatments in detail but he also asked them about their recent activities, if they had been able to participate in their favorite hobbies lately or how their vacations went. It was really interesting to see how close the doctor-patient bond was and that he truly cared about the well-being of the folks that were coming to see him. There was only one walk-in patient that day but Dr. Bates treated this man with the same respect and care that he gave to his other patients.

The importance of forging strong relationships with patients and the ability to truly become a part of their lives made a definite impression on me. In particular, I noticed that there was a fine line between acting as a physician and being a friend. One patient we saw that day was an elderly woman who was undergoing chemo. Her prognosis was poor and she was sad, confused and worried. Throughout it all, Dr. Bates was very compassionate, but not in the same manner as a best friend or family member would be. He obviously cared, but I think was trying to show this woman that, as her physician, he was going to be the one to hold it together and allow her to be emotional without falling to pieces trying to comfort her. That was enlightening for me because I think my tendency is to rush to someone's aid when they are upset and try to fix it all for them when sometimes they need me to just let them cry it out or be angry or frustrated and have that be okay.

While it was hard to see patients going through a difficult time, I'm so glad I was able to experience working with Dr. Bates. I learned so much about how to talk to patients, how to discuss controversial subjects and how to approach giving advice like "you need to lose weight" or "it's important for you to drink less." And there were actually a couple of times I knew a little something about whatever we were discussing and got to feel a tiny bit impressed with myself!

Occasionally when I'm bogged down with a lot of work or not feeling very hopeful about my chances for getting into school it's easy to forget why I'm doing all of this. Wednesday gave me a huge boost of encouragement and was a wonderful reminder of what I'm working towards.

BWH, Internal Medicine


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