When I first applied to medical school, I wrote about stories. In fact, my personal statement focused on three chapters of three stories. These stories, I summarized, were what brought patients to the doctor in the first place, and they were my purpose for pursuing medicine. Now, four years later and a few days away from conferring my degree, I’ve learned a lot about the power of stories.
As pre-clinical students, your focus is on learning how to take a thorough history and physical exam. As a third year, you have a lot more time to listen, although it may not feel like you do. Having a few patients on service, you have the opportunity to follow up with patients, gather their concerns, elucidate their questions, and provide comfort, while the rest of the team continues to write orders. I learned as a third year that a patient’s story is powerful. As a fourth year, I realized the impact of this story. Patients write their own story of their hospital experience. Most patients do not have a medical degree, and so their understanding of success or failure is often based on how they were treated, if they were listened to, or the size of their scar. I learned as a fourth year that a patient’s understanding affects their future involvement in healthcare. For example, patients who feel as if they are mistreated often do not return to the doctor until it is too late.
They say that 95% of treatment happens outside of the hospital, and after 4 years of medical school, I would agree. If we as physicians, including surgeons, help set up patients to feel comfortable and understand their experience, then we are helping them when we are no longer their providers. It’s truly humbling.