It was not so long ago that I was a medical student. And now, as an Intern, I think one of the toughest things beside the transition from medical student to doctor is maintaining compassion in a world where Politics govern our healthcare system, patients are non-compliant and fellow physician colleagues are emotionally and physically drained from a long day of seeing patients. Could it be that we lack compassionate and empathetic mentors to plant humanistic seeds among young physicians?
This past month I have had the privilege to work with a medical student that has yet to be influenced by the changing world of healthcare. Her name is Danielle Belardo, and she is a 3rd year medical student at Drexel University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Recently a patient of ours touched Danielle, and here is her story of keeping compassion at the hospital alive.
Do you remember why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place?
Written By: Danielle Belardo, MSIII
It’s a long road to become a physician, filled with sacrifice and stress, but also fulfillment, happiness and reward. Undergrad, MCAT, medical school, Step 1, 2, 3, Residency, Boards; it seems to never end. Through all of the numerous hours of time spent in the library, on call, doing scut work, missing out on friends birthdays and family parties, or simply just missing going to the gym, it’s easy to forget why any of us chose this life in the first place.
Being a third year medical student, I cannot attest to the challenges of residency and what is to follow, but the stress and sacrifice of medical school alone can make you ask yourself, “Why did I want to be a doctor in the first place?” During first and second year, you’re locked in a library in a chase against time memorizing as many rate-limiting enzymes as you possibly can before the 8 am biochemistry exam or learning every muscle and its innervation and function and the way it looks on every different cadaver for gross anatomy. We study an unnatural amount of hours every day and try to remember two years of material in a few weeks for Step 1. During the first two years of medical school, our patient interaction is limited. And when fight or flight kicks in, we all put blinders on, trying to survive from exam to exam. This disease process happens in a patient? What are patients? I’ve never seen one of those before.
And then third year hits and we’re thrown into a new world. Finally, we get to see patients! And throughout the scut work, minimal tasks, pimping by attendings, and finding some time somewhere to study for shelf exams, we also get to experience real medicine, delivering babies, suturing up wounds, and true patient care. But whenever we step outside of the hospital, log onto facebook, or talk to our non-medicine friends and loved ones, we get a glimpse into a life of no exams, happy hours, and a little more freedom. It’s easy to see what a life outside of medicine would be like and feel torn about the life we chose. But hopefully everyone gets a patient experience every so often than reminds them why this life is worth it, and why we are the lucky ones.
During my medicine rotation, one of my first patients was a very kind older man who was a homeless ex- drug addict with very sweet disposition. During his stay at our hospital, it was discovered that he had oropharyngeal cancer with metastasis everywhere, bone, bowel, nodes; you name it. This was the end of the road of his life. Throughout our rotations we see many different patients who are losing the battle to their disease process. We have to, in some ways, develop an armor that allows us to go into work every day withou
t feeling distraught or defeated by diseases that are life-ending. Although I was saddened by his condition, it wasn’t until he mentioned that he had three daughters, who he hadn’t been in contact with for years and wanted me to help him reach them, that I truly felt connected. All I could think about, was how my father has three daughters. Although incredibly different from this patient, my father is involved in every aspect of our lives. You only have one father and one mother, and that means something.
I felt a connection with this patient and his story, regardless of his past history, because at some point we have to all do our best to set aside all judgment and realize that we are all human. Getting to meet and help this patient, hearing his story at the end of his life, and being a part of it, even if so small, reminded me why I wanted to go into medicine in the first place. No matter how much our career is dedicated to fighting death, someday we will all pass. At the end of life, we all want to feel like we contributed to something bigger than ourselves, and that can be as little as giving an extra smile, listening to someones story, or providing comfort to someone who needs it.
Not many careers experience the rigorous training and sacrifice that we endure in medicine. It’s unique in its incredibly long hours, responsibility, and difficulty, yet necessary to be an adequately trained physician. However, our career is also unique in the rewards that we sometimes overlook each day. We get to be there when a woman who has struggled with failed miscarriages for years brings life into the world and delivers her first child. We get to be on the trauma team that helps save someone from a gunshot wound. We get to spend time on the hematology-oncology floor and get to spend those last fragile moments with patients who are at the end of their life.
Our career is unique in its struggles and in its rewards. Being a doctor is a privilege. From the compassion we bring patients who are vulnerable and scared in intimate moments, to the amazing nurses and supportive staff we get to meet along the way. I can only imagine that residency and what follows will continue to test me and every other medical student I know. Yet, I think it’s important to remind ourselves every time we are exhausted, stressed, and depleted that we are the lucky ones. We are the luckiest ones.