Friday, July 14, 2006

You're a Doctor - You Should Know

Category: General

It's approximately one month after your very first year of medical school. The overwhelmingness of it all has eased just slightly. You've been through the glorious white coat ceremony. You're feeling a little less uncomfortable in your new surroundings. You've probably survived the first set of exams.

And then the phone call comes. It's Mom (or some variation of), who chats pleasantly and appropriately and ends the conversation with "Oh yes, by the way, your Aunt Virginia (or some variation of) is here and would like to say hello." You groan inwardly and wait patiently for Aunt Virginia to come to the phone. After just a very few seconds of introductory pleasantries, the conversation shifts to something like this.

Aunt Virginia: Honey, I've been having these headaches for about a month now. I've never had a headache before. What do you think they are?
Student: Um, well. There's a lot of things it could be, I guess.
Aunt Virginia: Like what? Do you think it's a tumor?
Student (helplessly): I can't just say whether or not it's a tumor. It could be lots of things.
Aunt Virginia: Like what? Do you think my brain is swelling? It is migraine headaches? After all these years?
Student (exasperated): I really don't know.
Aunt Virginia: Well, why not? You're in medical school! You're a doctor, aren't you?

Yes, friends and neighbors, right as you juuuuussst start getting used to everything, these types of phone calls and conversations come, initiated mostly by friends and relatives who don't quite understand that they still know just about as much about medicine as you do, and maybe more. They can't fathom it. Five seconds after your first classes on your first day, you're supposed to know it all.

So how do you handle such encounters? My first response is/was usually rather curt, but I tried to keep it polite. If the same person did the same thing to me again, I usually got pretty rude.
"I'm not a doctor, yet," I'd snap. "You need to be talking to your doctor about this, anyway." I know it sounds terrible, but enough is enough. Nowadays, as a fourth year, I don't have to do that as much, because I know slightly more about what the heck I'm talking about, but it still doesn't cease to annoy me.

Take heed, fellow doctors-to-be: Patients, friends, and relatives generally sort of gape and act confused and can't understand when you say, "I don't know." And many times, "I don't know" is the most honest and appropriate answer you can give.


Blogger Vitum Medicinus said...

Undoubtedly EVERY medical student has been through this.

The best ones are the people who present their medical complaints to you when you're still in pre-med.

You could be doing a mathematics major for your pre-med and they'd still ask why their stomach is hurting.

No matter how many times I explained back then that "I'm not even in medical school yet!" the questions never ceased. Now I don't even have that excuse.

We were given a pretty stern warning right off the bat to not give medical advice, by the way. They told us some story about a doctor who checked out a mole on his neighbour's arm over the fence between their yards and said "Oh yeah, that's fine." Of course, it eventually became cancer and killed the poor guy...who never went to get it looked at no matter how big it grew because "the doctor said it is fine." The family won the lawsuit.

2:48 PM  

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