Details, details, details. Being a medical student or doctor is more than just memorizing the clinical presentations of various diseases, you need to treat each patient as an individual. You are going to be faced with similar illnesses over and over throughout your career. It’s easy to become complacent when faced with such repetition. Every patient comes to you with a chief complaint but, behind that complaint are your patient’s values, expectations, circumstances and preferences.
During my preceptorship, which I describe as sort of an apprenticeship under a primary care physician, I witnessed the following exchange. My preceptor was seeing a middle-aged woman for a standard physical. All tests were within the ‘normal’ range except her blood pressure and weight were borderline high. The doctor was delivering these results to his patient, she asked how to get her numbers within the normal range. He explained how proper diet and exercise can easily have an effect on her weight and blood pressure. Then, he started writing down an exercise and diet plan that he wanted her to follow before their next visit. As he is writing and talking, she begins to cry softly. He stops and looks up. He realizes that this ‘standard plan’ wouldn’t fit this woman’s busy lifestyle. The doctor puts his hand on her knee and comforts the patient. He reassures her that they will take the diet and exercise plan one step at a time to fit her needs. My preceptor treated his patient like a person and not just an illness with a face. He saw the details of her expression, posture and gaze. He made the necessary adjustments to his care because of these details. Always pay attention to the details, that’s what makes us human.