Posts tagged reflection

Embrace

The echoes of my steps resonated within the expanse of the hospital garage. As I made my way to the end of the aisle to my stall, a couple caught my eye.

A tall man, his hair only beginning to turn grey, faced a woman of similar age, dressed in a beautiful white summer dress. Next to them a car, its trunk agape, half packed with a box of personal belongings and a white plastic bag full of clothes sat waiting. Still, they stood, pausing, ruminating.

They stared longingly into each other’s eyes, a deep seeded pain overwhelming them as tears trickled down their delicate features. A warm embrace as they held each other tightly and wept.

I wondered what terrible tragedy had befell them. Did a loved one’s health take a turn for the worst? Did a loved one just pass away? Did their mother, father, daughter, or son, just perish from this earth? I could not help but wonder.

But it was not my place to ask.

I watched helplessly as they buried their heads in each other’s shoulders and comforted one other.

I continued walking.

The Problem With Shorthands

I saw a patient on the ward on call recently where the patient’s complaint was some mild shortness of breath. Upon reviewing the progress notes, one of the issues low down on issues list was titled PE.

My heart skipped a beat.

Pulmonary embolus. My thoughts raced at the possibility that this patient had a recurrence. I quickly went back to see the patient but found that his story and physical exam did not quite add up to what I had imagined. I decided to go back and read the chart notes carefully again.

The more I read the notes in its reverse chronology, the less this PE sounded like a pulmonary embolus until I finally found the source, some ten pages back, buried in the middle of their already thinned chart.

Pleural effusion.

Over time, a relatively benign finding had been unintentionally shortened to a grave and emergent issue by the student writer. I breathed a sigh of relief.

It was yet another reminder of how shorthands and acronyms can cause miscommunication.

A Word with Fourth Year

For the students who have survived their foray into clerkship, congratulations for making it this far. You are only a year away from finishing your medical schooling. Here are some words of wisdom as you draw closer to the end as an undifferentiated stem cell and down the new path as a resident.

  1. Stay healthy. Surely by now you will have managed to find a daily routine that allows you to work hard but also enjoy time away from medicine. However, third year is also a time when one can pick up bad habits. Plan ahead, and take this opportunity before residency begins to really iron out the sore spots in your life.
  2. Explore your interests. Fourth year is really about finding your career interest and honing in on that goal. This is where you can start to expand on your career choice and take electives that give you inspiration, skills, or both. 
  3. Prepare early. Residency applications are meaty things and the deadlines come sooner than you think. Research the programs early, write cover letters early, and think about planning your electives early and in line with the residency matching schedule. 
  4. Have a backer. In third year, I mentioned that making a good impression was important. That trend continues on in the fourth year electives as well. The good will and social capital you accumulate with your attendings are what will fuel good reference letters. For a competitive program, these letters, particularly if they are from respected members of the faculty, can make or break an application.
  5. Study and keep studying. Elective choices can change the entire atmosphere of fourth year. While flexibility is welcome, it is never a license to take the easy road. Still take some time to read and study. At the end of it all, regardless of what program you match to, the licensing exam tests you on all facets of medicine.
  6. Big brother, big sister. When you began third year, you were the fresh face on the ward. There was some stuff you knew back then but a tonne more you had no idea about. Remember how stressful and terrifying it was once.
    Now that you are a fourth year, do not forget how that felt. When you meet a third year student on your team, help them along, guide them, impart your experience to them. Remember the kindness of your senior students and residents and pay it forward.
  7. Have fun. Medical school goes by very quickly. As a student, there is a flexibility and freedom that you will simply never come across again. Enjoy your rotations with your peers. Make the most of your electives. Take the residency interview tour as a nation-trotting adventure. Never forget to have fun on this job.

Related posts: A Word with First Year. A Word with Second Year. A Word with Third Year.

My friend, old and passing, said,
“There is more to life than staying alive.
Don’t rescue me too much.”
On his farm, twelve miles out
by rough gravel roads, he is done
with plowing, spraying, harvesting.
But he is not done watching the sun
sink below the windbreak or listening
to the nighthawks above his fields.
Don’t make him move to town.
There is more to tragedy
than dying.

A Note to His Doctor by Kevin Hadduck.

Poetry and Medicine, JAMA July 2, 2014, Vol 312, No. 1

The First Week: Thoughts on Being a Doctor

Today marks the end of my first week as a doctor. To say the least it has been exciting, interesting, but above all, scary.

I have hit the ground running here, starting my first rotation in internal medicine. The days thus far have been long, hard, and busy. Everything feels more real, more high stakes; after all, I am now the one who needs to make the decision overnight. 

However, every resident feel like this when they begin practice. What I would like to share instead are some of my other experiences:

  • People are addressing me as doctor: This continues to feel very out of place to me. While I now do refer to myself this way, I still ask people to address me as Tom.
  • I can give verbal orders over the phone: As a medical student, I was never allowed to give a verbal order over the phone. In order to start investigations or medications, I always had to go to the ward and write it myself. Not anymore.
  • What orders should I give over the phone?: While I used to have time to think on my way to the ward as well as the luxury to phone the resident for approval, this is no longer the case. I cannot emphasize enough how awkward it is to be asked for directions on the spot. “Can I call you back?” or “Let me lay eyes on the patient first.” are my go-to phrases now.
  • Accepting my orders as they are: On very few instances when a pharmacist is on hand, no one has questioned my orders. It is a scary burden to carry as a new resident. “Is what I am about to order safe?” Unfortunately, no switch flips on in our head when we become a resident, granting us all the knowledge and competence we need to make these decisions on our own. Even for some of my simpler orders, I still run them by my senior resident first.
  • The work does not change: Honestly, while the responsibilities have increased, the work we must do is the same. That also means that time for sleeping, eating, and peeing is still at a premium. Already, I have done a 36 hour straight call shift. And more are to come I am sure.
  • Billing: I never had to learn about earning money as a medical student but now it is part of my daily life. The flip side to doing all of the clinical work is all of the paperwork, now billing included.

There are still two years ahead of me in this residency and much to learn, see, and do. Expect more thoughts on this transition in the future.

Rusty

Being off service for three months has made me more rusty than I thought. There was no greater wake up call than realizing I had forgotten how to approach some simple problems on the ward.

While it is July 1st and most all of the seniors and attendings expect a bit of an adjustment back to clinical work, my performance today was disappointing.

Back to the books.

Four Stages of Competence

In the 1970s, Noel Burch described four stages of learning any new skill and it could be summarized as follows:

  • Unconscious incompetence, where one does not recognize a deficit;
  • Conscious incompetence, where one does recognize a deficit and how to improve their skill;
  • Conscious competence, where one is competent but requires concentration to perform the skill, and;
  • Unconscious competence: where the skill has become second nature.

Everyone strives for unconscious competence. The mastery of a skill has become so complete that you can do it effortlessly. The scariest state to be in is the first stage. “You do not know what you do not know.” That can be a terrible position to be in, especially when a patient’s life is on the line.

That is why receiving feedback is so important. That is why we train for so many years, under the watchful eye of so many experts to be a master of the craft. Sometimes, in order to make that transition to the next step of our competency, it requires someone else to point out where we need help.

MD: A Degree in Review

It still shocks me that I am only a few days away from beginning my residency. Four years have come and gone. I now have a degree and letters behind my name to show for it. This last year has presented with its own unique challenges and a lot has changed in four years. Let’s have a look back.

Year One

It was here that I first learned how to correctly use my stethoscope, how to speak with patients, and how to act like a doctor. These were my baby steps. I studied a whole host of topics, covering the broadest and biggest organ systems. It was also here that I learned anatomy and had the privilege to work with cadavers. 

Year Two

In many respects this was the most stressful year. While clinical work is taxing in its own right, nothing came close to the mental toll this year had on me. Studying was both a necessity and a compulsion. Easily I spent entire days sitting a library, reading, memorizing, understanding. I had never studied that much in my entire life.

Year Three

This time, the stresses of clinical work were balanced between the mental and the physical. By far the most challenging year of all but also the most enjoyable. Having sat in class for the better part of my life, now I would have to do.

It was an adjustment to work in a hospital, to see volumes of patients, to do call shifts. But I adjusted and grew used to the pace of the ward. Gradually, I learned to move from knowing how, to showing how, to doing.

Year Four

On top of the clinical work, I had a number of additional challenges this year. I had an all encompassing OSCE, residency applications and touring, and a licensing exam to complete. By this point, clinical rotations were not quite as overwhelming or scary as they used to be, but I still had many hard days.

The brunt of the stress this year came from the latter additions. Those three things were for all the marbles, and the consequences of missing any one of those were a constant worry. The OSCE wound up showing some of my weaknesses that I would need to improve on. The CaRMS tour would take me across the country from colder to coldest winters in Canada. The licensing exam ended up being a two-week mad dash to the finish line. For six months, the pressures mounted through these three main events.

But I eventually reached the end of my four year journey. I graduated, I was admitted to a residency program, and I passed my exam. 

It has been a roller coaster ride through four years of medical school. I am happy I could document it all here in these posts. Now I start a different journey through residency and look forward to reflecting more on this new adventure.

Welcome to Medblr

When I first started writing on the Medical State of Mind, there were very few medical tumblrs, or medblrs as we are known now. I could count on (less than) two hands, how many strongly medically oriented tumblrs existed.

Looking at this list now, and the many additions since by fellow bloggers and readers, it is truly impressive how much the medical blogosphere has changed. Having said that, there are still many barriers and challenges from within and without to create standards that allow everyone to both speak their minds and respect the boundaries of the profession.

We have our work cut out for us to move at the same speed as the change around us.

I am very honoured to be a part of this list and encourage everyone to check out some of the other blogs on this list as well.

The Badge

Today, I received a new ID badge from the hospital.

With the transition from student to resident, it seemed as though even the dimensions of the card had an upgrade. It was longer and wider, needing a larger sleeve to put it in. The gloss coating on it was shiny and impeccable. Beneath it all, a swath of vivid colours depicted a man with a beaming smile that could be described either as overjoyed to be a resident or overcompensating for his anxiety and nervousness.

In big bold Helvetica, the title Dr. preceded the name. My name.