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Doctor, Please Explain…

Recently I have been thinking about communication.

In my short career so far, I have realized that there is often a huge chasm between what we (physicians) think we have explained and what patients understand.

As a general rule, I try to take the time needed to talk to patients and answer all their questions. Sometimes I think I do an adequate job. And patients have voice appreciation for it before. I have been thanked for actually taking the time to explain my thought process and my plan. But I’m sure there are other times when I my question-answering leaves something to be desired.

Unfortunately, time is a luxury. Sometimes things get rushed. Sometimes there are patients who need more attention because of their condition so we spend a shorter amount of time talking to the more stable patient.

I’ve also had nurses tell me that they care for patients who ask them all sorts of questions about their medical care but when the physician comes in to see them, the patient either forgets or chooses not to pose the question to the physician. Sometimes they get overwhelmed. Sometimes they are intimidated. Nurses tell me that sometimes after the doctor leaves the room, the patients will ask their questions to the nurses.
Most of my work caring for patients involves residents/interns and medical students. I try to emphasize the need for clear and accurate information each time I work with a new group. Nevertheless, miscommunication happens. We aren’t perfect. We operate in a flawed and broken system that expects perfection and efficiency from medical providers.

If you’re reading this post, I’d love to hear about your experience as a patient. Are there still things that confuse you about that experience? Are there things that you wish your doctor had taken more time to explain? Are their topics or diseases that they sped through while talking to you? Do you wish they’d have slowed down and spoken in plain English? I want to know what the confusing topics are! I want to know where we, as a profession, fall short!

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Parenthood Thus Far

It’s now December. I went back to work in mid October after approximately 6 weeks without a shift. During those six weeks I had the occasional meeting to attend and other administrative responsibilities. But I had no 12 hour shift to fulfill. After feeling like I’ve been going non-stop throughout medical school and residency, it felt weird not to have any clinical duties for so long. At the same time, however, it wasn’t a vacation.

Prior to my 6 weeks off, I thought I would be able to stay at home, take care of the baby, and take time to read. I had hoped to have this time to catch up on much-needed reading. I soon learned that a newborn takes a lot of time. Despite both me and the wife being off work, we frequently found ourselves getting behind on things we had to do because, well, we were trying to keep this new creature alive.

During residency I had my share of on-call shifts that lasted over 24 hours. The newborn period soon came to feel like a prolonged call shift lasting days. Our nights were split into shifts where we would take turns taking the baby and making sure she was clean, dry, and fed.

We were lucky that Faith, our baby, was quick to take the breast or bottle. She wasn’t fussy and she didn’t need much coaxing to eat. But let me tell you, this little one can go from 0 to ‘hangry’ in no time at all. It’s as if she finally has the realization that, “Oh, I actually AM hungry.” This is usually followed by immediate wailing and crying.

They say that parenthood changes you. They say that having a child shifts your own priorities. I wonder how she shifts mine. I suppose only time will tell.

Oh well. It’s December. It’s baby’s first Christmas. And I will try to enjoy it while it lasts. In a few days the baby turns 4 months. I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. It’s been crazy watching her grow so much in such a short period of time.

 

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Back To Work

I go back to work this week. It’s the first time I have been on a shift since mid August. My wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our first child, a baby girl. I was fortunate to be able to arrange my schedule in order to accomodate this time off.

It’s odd going back to work after a long time. Part of me welcomes going back. Part of me wants to hang out with this brand new, little human being.

They say that having children changes your priorities and perspectives.

Personally, I think its’ too early for me to say what, if anything, has changed.

Sure, I wish I could spend a ton of time with the little one. But I also have gotten antsy and wanted to get out of the house.

If it were an option or possiblity, I wonder how I would do being a stay-at-home dad/husband. I would probably have to be intentional about being active and doing things out in the community with the baby. Needless to say, I’ve got tons of respect for men and women who are full-time caregivers with their children at home.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Are you there?

A longtime reader (and by longtime reader, I mean my mother) of this blog recently commented to me that I haven’t been writing here very much as of late.

As a blogger, I suppose it is good to know that your absence is missed — even if that absence is noted by your mother.

My last post was published prior to this academic year ending. I was wrapping up my year as a Chief Resident. It truly was a good year. I felt that I learned a lot and developed not only as a clinician but an educator and (dare I say it) administrator too.

Am I still here? Do I still exist? Well the answer is yes, obviously. I have been left in the post residency… afterglow? Is it even appropriate to call it that?

Though I did round as the attending physician during my chief residency, those stints were scattered here and there. Now, however, that is life. I’m no longer involved in the inner workings of residency administration. And that’s ok. It’s time to move on. The new chiefs have taken over that baton beautifully.

But it does sort of force you to redefine your life. Because for so long life has been about training and learning and education and answering to a program director.

Sure, I still have a boss and a department chair. But there is a much more autonomous feel to it now.

I’ve taken up some leadership positions. I’m trying to get involved with our institution in ways I feel I can contribute positively. I’m working with residents and medical students. Overall, though, I feel that the path is now less defined and it’s up to myself to figue out where I’m going to point this ship.

That’s an exciting, scary, and daunting idea.

But this journey goes on.

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About 3 Months Left

There’s about 3 months to go in this academic year.

That means I will be a Chief Resident for only another 3 months. My contract is coming to an end. The incoming Chief Residents have already been chosen and announced.

It some ways I feel like I know what a lame duck president must feel like.

The year has gone by faster than I could have anticipated. It’s been a period of satisfaction, personal & professional growth, and frustration. There have been ups and downs. Joys and disappointments.

My fellow residents who graduated from residency last year — well those who went on to work “real” jobs — have pulled in so much more money than I have this year. I’m sure they are enjoying the dough. Sure it is not has high as those surgical specialties. But it sure is a lot more than what I’ve been paid this year.

Still, I don’t regret it. Knowing what I do now, I would do it again.

There is a fraternity of sorts with former chief residents. And I’m proud to have joined those ranks.

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Attending Status

What’s in a title?

My ID badge now says “Attending Physician.”

I guess that’s my title now.

Last month I worked two hospitalist shifts. A week later I followed it up with 7 MOD shifts.

As a hospitalist I was responsible for my entire set of patients. I did get to work with one resident who was spending the month doing a hospitalist elective.

During the MOD shifts, I was the attending on one of our Internal Medicine teaching teams. I had a senior resident and two interns.

It is definitely a new feeling to have “the last say.” All my previous experiences on inpatient medicine had been as a resident. There were always things that I deferred to the attending. Like discharges home, for example.

As the attending, I had the final say. And it was a very different experience.

Serving as the attending on the teaching service was interesting as well. I remember frequently paging my senior residents to check in and make sure they did certain things. And as I did that, a light in my head turned on. I realized why I used to get several pages from attendings as they wanted to make sure I followed through on certain things.

When you have other people taking care of patients under your license and supervision, you start to pay attention.

Part of my job as a Chief Resident is doing a cetain number of MOD shifts. Seven shifts down. Looking forward this upcoming year. I have a lot to learn about medicine still. I have a lot to learn about teaching residents and students. I also have a lot of fun in store.

Stick around, dear reader. This should be a fun year.

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County Life

This month is my first of two months rotating at one of the local county medical centers. It is very different than either of the other two hospitals in which we find ourselves.

Traditionally it has been called our “senior capstone” experience — acting as the senior resident at the county.

The patient population is diverse. Sick patients walking daily with strange diagnoses.

At night, we find ourselves mostly on our own covering the ICU patients.

During intern year, my first rotation was here at County.

It is very strange to find myself back, now in the senior resident position.

They say time flies. I am counting on it.