Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Gift of Time

A little over one month ago, I graduated from medical school. Losing the title of “student” for the first time in my life prompted me to reflect on what I’ll miss most about being a medical student.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I know unequivocally the answer is time. From the first day of my clinical rotations, it was clear to me that more than anyone else on the team, as the medical student I had time. And time has the power to heal.

I took advantage of this gift every opportunity I could. The resultant conversations often impacted the patient’s trajectory. For example in talking with an overweight patient who needed a lung transplant, I learned he had recently lost over 80 lbs in six months. Prior to this realization, the team had feared he was unable to lose enough weight to qualify for a lung transplant. In a one on one conversation with a gang member who was demanding his own room upon transfer out of the ICU I learned he had been molested by a man as a child and was fearful his PTSD would worsen sharing a room with another man. We arranged for a private room.

There were also heart touching moments. Watching the eyes of an 80 year old woman with dementia light up as she sang every verse of her favorite Sunday school song with the palliative medicine team. Or watching a previously paralyzed man surprise his wife by standing up to greet her after his successful spine surgery. I can only hope these moments were as healing for the patients as they were educational and inspiring for me.

It saddens me to know that as a resident, I will no longer have the unstructured time I had as a medical student. I find solace in knowing med school memories of patients will forever be close to my heart. In residency I will strive to be efficient with my duties so when a patient remembers “one more question” as I walk to the door, I will have time to truly listen. Time may not heal all wounds, but it’s in these unscripted moments with patients that I find my inspiration.

Addendum: After writing this post, I came across a great blog post by Dr. Robert Centor titled, "Why do we expect productivity from physicians" arguing that we must continue to value time in the physician-patient relationship. I couldn't agree more.