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Dear Clinical Students: Here's What Patients Like Me Want (and Need) Most

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To the clinical student studying to become a medical assistant, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician, I ask you to please listen to my advice.

I have been working in various clinical and clerical areas of medicine for 22 years, and as a patient, I’ve probably spent more time in surgery, physicians appointments and labs than you have.

I know you have the best of intentions. I know experiencing new procedures is exciting and new. I know you hope to help the masses and make a solid name for yourself while doing so.

Let me tell you, the one thing each patient wants most is to be heard.

Stop. We need to be heard. We want you to listen to us with all of your attention. We want you to acknowledge what we’re saying to you. We want empathy, even if your mind is swirling with a million other thoughts.

I understand that time is money in medicine. I understand your senior physician may be pressuring you to hurry. I understand you may feel rushed or even uninterested when there is another, more intriguing case in the room next door.

It doesn’t really matter.

I had an experience recently where a PA student came into the room first to do my preliminary evaluation. He was very nice, but with every attempt I made to answer his questions, he interrupted, “Oh, yea, sure, sure…” I eventually gave up and quit answering. (He didn’t notice.) It went downhill from there.

It occurred to me that he missed a serious opportunity for learning. I happen to have fibromyalgia, which isn’t well understood, but it’s common. He will encounter dozens, if not hundreds more patients like me in his career.

No matter the illness/injury, each patient represents an opportunity to learn and grow as a medical practitioner. Ovarian cancer is something I experienced as a teenager. The symptoms are vague and often go unrecognized by medical professionals. Not listening might mean you miss the right diagnosis. Not listening might mean you miss crucial information about our health. Not listening might mean you miss serious depression in the person with an ingrown toenail. Not listening might mean we lose respect for you and find another physician.

Please remember no matter how rushed you are, we are all human and deserve respect. Ask about our pain, symptoms and emotions. Remember that you’re on the right side of the exam room table and you get to walk away from the illness we take home with us.

We’ll all be better for it.

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Originally published: January 4, 2018
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