When The Doctor Is On The Other Side Of The Exam Table

Author(s): 
Camille Ryans, DPM

Just as in any other profession, podiatrists may become so overwhelmingly comfortable with their daily tasks that they do not evaluate how well they are actually performing them. It is not until you are confronted with having to exchange roles with the people to whom you provide services that you gain a true awareness and appreciation for the importance of performing your job well.

   Recently, I found myself in this situation. We have all suffered from various ailments requiring medical care. It feels very different being at the opposite end of the table and having to be the patient as opposed to the medical provider.

   As the saying goes, “Doctors make the worst patients.” As most doctors try their hardest to refrain from being overbearing or asking a million and one questions and not being a difficult patient, some are not able to do so. Treating other healthcare professionals or their family members is always a bit more difficult because their perceived knowledge base is greater than that of the layman who is unaccustomed to using medical jargon on a daily basis. When doctors are patients, we must make a conscious effort to refrain from behaving in a way that will compromise our medical care.

   Until a couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough not to have to play the role of a sole chaperone for a loved one undergoing a surgical procedure. Previously, each time that I stepped into a hospital or a surgical center, it was to assist in the medical care of an unfamiliar patient. In this recent circumstance, I had to walk into the surgery center by the side of someone I know very well. However, this event was somewhat relatable because my family member had to undergo a non-elective orthopedic procedure.

   It was difficult to sleep the evening before the procedure as my mind was filled with unlimited possibilities regarding the outcome of the surgery. As I entered the surgery center the next morning, the scene was very familiar although the facility was many states away from the location of my residency program. The surgical case was first thing in the morning as the majority of the cases in my residency are, except this time I would not be playing the role of surgical assistant.

   Instead, I was the anxious chaperone, responsible for remembering all of the essential instructions from the physician and nursing staff, especially instructions they gave while my loved one was under the influence of anesthesia. The staff members at the center were very professional and accommodating. This eased my mind as I was able to relax and remain supportive.

   A sense of sincerity is always important when interacting with patients but it was not until my own relative was the patient that I was able to identify other characteristics that doctors should display when caring for a patient.

   Too often, individuals operate on autopilot without thinking about their actions. It becomes easy to get caught in this trend, especially when you have completed similar tasks daily for a long period of time. I quickly learned that the behaviors displayed by everyone from the receptionist to the pre-op and post-op nurses and the doctors are all important. We were fortunate enough to have a very pleasant experience. Everyone was kind, knowledgeable and kept us both informed.

   By observing some of the communication techniques that the more experienced physicians and surgeons exhibited, I was better able to tailor my approach to speaking with patients and family members. In the future, I will be able to determine the appropriate amount of time that I should spend with each patient preoperatively and postoperatively, and the most effective way to answer any questions that patients may have. I will also know how to interact with the other staff members in order to foster a supportive work environment throughout the surgical center.

   Too often, we take familiar practices for granted. Every now and again, we get a reminder to pay attention and to better our techniques regarding our individual daily activities. Exposure to others’ approaches, especially when concerning the care of loved ones, definitely heightens awareness of our own behaviors when providing medical services to others.

   Dr. Ryans is a third-year resident at SSM DePaul Health Center in St. Louis.

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