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On The Wards – PM&R

For the past week and a half I have been on my 3rd year elective. At LLU, we do a 2 week elective after our Pediatric rotation. It has been interesting. They told us to use the elective to help us to either rule in or to rule out a specialty we are considering.

I ranked Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) as my first choice and was glad when I found out I got it. I chose it because I had heard many people say that it is a good specialty to go into: decent pay & good lifestyle. But I really had no idea what PM&R doctors did.

With my 2 weeks rotating through the PM&R service I hoped tho learn more about what these doctors actually do and explore the specialty as best I could. I’ve learned that these PM&R doctors are called physiatrists and their goal is to improve the quality of life and the function of their patients. Within this specialty doctors manage pain, assist in regaining physical function, deal with amputees, treat spinal injuries, etc. It is a huge field.

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Today I saw a stroke patient. I’ll call her Sharon. Sharon has been in the recovery unit for quite some time. The thing that stuck out to me was that her left side was extremely weak due to the stroke. However, she insisted that it had always been that way. To her, there was no change in her physical abilities and she couldn’t understand why she was still being kept in the rehab facility.

I’d heard about hemineglect before but this was the first time for me seeing it live. And it was very odd to see.

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PM&R doctors also do EMGs like neurologists. I got to chance to observe during one day of EMG clinic. The whole ordeal looked quite uncomfortable. After the first patient finished, one of the medical students asked the attending if he could explain a little bit about EMGs. He took us back into the room and proceeded to perform an EMG on himself.

He took it like a champ. While the patients were squirming and moaning with pain, the attending just fiddled with that needle in his muscle. So I snuck this picture in. If you click on it, a larger version should pop up and you might be able to see the needle.

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Overall, it’s been a good experience. I’m glad I got a chance to see the wide variety of things that happens within the PM&R specialty. At this point, it is still on my list of possibilities.

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Any other symptoms?

OSCEs are a great way to test students. Every student sees the same “patient.” The actor might be different, but the case they are given to memorize and act out is the same. It allows for standardization and makes evaluating students all the more easier because everyone is on the same playing field.

The problem is that OSCE patients are there to test us — not figure out what is wrong and get treated. And since the goal of the “patient” is different, they act differently than real ones.

For example, when I have seen real patients who come in sick, I often need to slow them down because they are just spouting off everything under the sun that is wrong with them or their child. So a mother bringing a child in with a chief complaint of diarrhea will tell you that the diarrhea started at such and such a time and the kid also had a fever and threw up a couple times, etc.

An OSCE mother will tell you that the kid is suffering from diarrhea. And when you ask if the kid has any other symptoms, it is likely that she will reply, “No.”

I get why a fake patient does this. They are there for our practice and for us to be evaluated on our clinical skills. We should be pressing for specific symptoms once we have an idea of the diagnosis. So after taking the history we have to go over the “Review of Systems” and ask specifically for different symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, etc.).

But it just feels like I’m playing a game, or that my “patient” really isn’t all that interested. Because as a parent, wouldn’t you be listing off all of the symptoms you have noticed if it is as obvious as a fever you personally measured?

And now this rant ends.

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On the Wards – I Apologized To A Patient

I apologized to a patient — for not being a woman. As I walked into the room, and the nervous laughter erupted from both her and her mother, I knew something was up.

“What brings you in today,” I asked after we exchanged the customary introductions.

“She’s shy,” her mother answered as the two of them laughed again. “She was hoping she would get a girl doctor.”

And with that, I drew some conclusions as to why they were in the clinic. The chief complaint, as listed in the chart, was a simple one liner: “abdominal pain.”

The girl — no, the young woman sitting on the exam table in front of me was probably as uncomfortable talking to me as I was talking to her. Because when you’re a brand new 3rd year, you learn pretty quickly that you will have to “fake it” more often than you’d like. You come into situations you have only ever read about. You have to talk to a patient about the most private parts of their lives. Then you have to offer counsel and, hopefully, a plan to fix whatever they came in to have fixed all without sounding like a clueless idiot fumbling with words and eye contact and all that social jazz.

At one point I was asked if the sporadic pain and the irregularity between menses is normal. I laughed and said I obviously didn’t have any firsthand knowledge about it, but I knew it was normal.

She said she had no other symptoms. But I asked if she had back pain and the answer was yes. I had her move around and palpated her stomach. There were no masses; it caused no pain. I reassured her that it was not appendicitis. It was just normal, young-woman, growing-up pains. She’s growing up.

And I think I am too.