The holiday season has come and gone and, of course, it brought with it lots of great food. Although I’ve grown up surrounded by several family members who are excellent cooks, I have yet to achieve cooking greatness. I hold out hope that one day I might reach my full potential, but for now, I content myself with baking. I consider myself a fairly good baker, because in my mind baking is a science. In college, I was a chemistry major, so following a recipe comes easily to me. Cooking, on the other hand, is an art, and requires creativity and a practiced hand that I haven’t yet acquired.
I’ve found that I have similar troubles when it comes to interacting with standardized patients. At Albany Medical College, we’ve been working on taking histories and conducting physical exams on standardized patients since early in first year. At first, it was enough to just follow the steps in order. Mnemonics helped me remember the correct questions to ask, and stock phrases filled any awkward silences. I developed some tricks to easily connect with the patients, and I felt like things were going well.
Now, in second year, it is becoming clear that following the recipe that I’ve practiced is no longer enough. We’ve been working on “challenging histories” about topics like sexually transmitted diseases, marital infidelity, and domestic violence. My usual tactics like chatting about hobbies and using humor haven’t been as appropriate lately. It has been a little difficult to taken on a more serious tone and connect with the patients in a different way. And since we’ve been transitioning from full histories to focused histories, I haven’t always been able to use my mnemonics either, so I’m lost in that respect too.
It’s going to take time and practice to move beyond the recipe and into the art of skillful history-taking, just like it will take time to get better at cooking. I’ve been thinking about my New Year’s resolutions and I want to become a more capable cook this year. At the same time, I’m sure, AMC will continue to mold me into a more capable student and future physician, melding science and art to cook up a competent caregiver.