One of the highlights of medical school that every student looks forward to is working with patients. It’s important and rewarding to learn how to collect information, practice clinical skills, and how to build rapport. But what happens if patients don’t want to work with medical students?
I found myself in this situation last week at preceptorship, when I went to interview one of the patients that day. I immediately knew something was wrong when I went to introduce myself and was greeted with a less than friendly tone. Clearly, the patient expected his regular physician, and scanned my student badge with irritability. When I asked him if I could ask him a few questions, he said “Look, I don’t want to have to do this thing twice. Can you just get my doctor for me?”
Patients may decline to work with medical students for various reasons – they don’t feel comfortable with a student, they’ve had a previous bad experience, or they would rather confide in their physician. When I talked to my preceptor about the experience, he gave me good advice to how to approach the situation. Instead of asking patients why they felt uncomfortable, or what they preferred instead, you should just make it clear that you are there to help. For example, you could say “I know you feel uncomfortable with a student physician, but I want to let you know that I am here to help you as best as I can, and everything I am doing is for your benefit. Is that ok with you?” In this way, you can humanize yourself and help patients understand what your role is.
You might still get turned down, but at least you made the best of a difficult situation.