Dear Future Physicians,
You will be the most important person in the world to her.
You will be the last thing she thinks about when she goes to sleep and the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up. She will cry about what you tell her, and dream about what she wanted you to say instead. She will be angry when you don't listen to her and furious when you don't call when you say you will. She probably won't tell you how much you mean to her and how she hangs on every word you say, because she most likely won't realize it herself. She'll hear about other relationships and may wish that yours was more like the others -- and when you break up, she will be thrilled. To be honest, she may never want to have to see you again.
You can probably handle that -- we've all dealt with breakups before. The only difference this time is that it won't happen just once. It's going to happen hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of times, for the rest of your life. Maybe even multiple times a day.
Why? Because this is the responsibility that you bear as a physician. You may deliver the news of pregnancy, or you may deliver the news of death. You may be the very first person to tell someone that they have stage four cancer or the very first person to tell them that they have entered remission. No matter what type of physician you may be, and what type of news you are delivering, you become the single most important person in the world to your patients because you are there at the start of their journey, you are at the helm of their survival.
I speak from experience -- not as a doctor, but as a cancer survivor. I was "her" -- a stage 2 breast cancer patient -- and as soon as I heard the words "you have cancer," my surgeon became one of the most important people in the world to me (although I had no idea at the time). I longed for him to tell me the words that many of us fighters often dream of -- "the cancer is gone." I was the definition of an empowered patient, and, unfortunately, my doctor didn't trust me. He doubted the information that I came to him with, and I could tell in the way that he spoke to me that he thought I was "wrong" and it wouldn't work. Six years later, and here I am -- healthy and committed to sharing my story.
My negative experience with my doctor shouldn't disappoint you or scare you, it should empower you. You will have an undeniable impact on so many lives, which, for many of you, is why you decided to go into this field in the first place.
My team and I recently attended the American Medical Student Association's annual convention, where I introduced my website, IHadCancer.com, to future physicians. These students opened my eyes to what the future of the doctor-patient relationship will look like. The time I spent with them reassured me that the next wave of doctors are better armed than many practicing physicians today. Through my conversations with them, we were able to narrow down a few tips that can better equip future physicians for the human side of a clinical diagnosis:
- Communicate Effectively: As the face of the diagnosis, your words are extremely powerful. Using words like "us" and "we" can show your patients that you are on their team and that they are not alone from the very beginning. While you are still in school, practice delivering a diagnosis with your peers and help each other figure out exactly what, and how, to deliver life-changing news.
How else can you be prepared for the doctor-patient relationship? Share your ideas in the comments below.