Caring for others as a medical student

When asked to list some risk factors of all-too-common chronic illnesses like heart disease or diabetes, we tend to offer answers such as an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise, tobacco use, or alcohol. Rarely do we suggest that our personal relationships determine the course of our health, yet I’m learning that this, more often than not, is the case for our patients and also ourselves as healthcare practitioners and trainees.

Thus the emphasis on establishing rapport with our patients makes sense. Through early guided preceptorship experiences at Baylor, I have already seen 10 different patients and embarked on explorative journeys with them through the medical interviewing and physical examination processes, identifying nuances that may account for their illnesses. Often these nuances relate to how patients interact with others in their daily lives. Moreover, to the patient, the white coat connotes knowledge, competency, and empathy, all of which I still have yet to master. The inherent powerful responsibilities associated with the symbol also fuel extreme sentiments like “white coat syndrome.” For me as a student, however, the white coat carries immense complexity. For one, upon donning the coat before clinic, I am immediately reassured that I’ve been given a special opportunity because I’m smart enough, courageous enough, and dedicated enough to do good in the context of this profession. Yet I’m also timid of not remembering, never having learned, and doing harm. We owe it to our patients and our teachers to demonstrate confidence and also to admit error. This is a difficult concept for me to reconcile, particularly as a trainee, when it feels as though so much is at stake in the early stages of building my career.

We make decisions every day that affect not only our individual wellness but also the health of our communities. These communities themselves possess good or bad health. The competition for limited spots, the competition for the mere sake of winning, the lack of compassion toward our peers, etc. are all negative risk factors affecting our health as individual medical professionals and the health of our profession. The only way for me to move forward beyond these dangers is to transform intimidation into motivation and inspiration. It is important to have faith that the success of others does not diminish the possibility of attaining your own, that the universe is ever-expanding and not ever-shrinking. We don’t need to forcibly build a community among a group of people with similar morals and goals, but we do need to observe, give, and refrain from caring only for ourselves in what feels like the smaller monotonous aspects of our days.

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