What It's Like to See a Patient for the First Time
Undergraduate: Mississippi College
Major: Chemistry Medical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences
Medical School: University of Mississippi School of Medicine
When did you first see a patient?
The summer between first and second year I saw my first patient. I was a summer extern for the Family Medicine Department at our University Hospital. I was doing hospital rounds with the family medicine residents early one morning.
What was the hospital like?
The hospital was located down the road from the medical school I attend. People from all across our state are treated there, so there’s a significant variety of patients.
What were your responsibilities?
I arrived at the hospital around 6:00 AM that morning to meet with the residents and start rounds. I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing. After all, I had just finished my M1 year. Early that summer I had done some rudimentary physical exams on patients at an out-patient family medicine clinic. However, this day was going to be quite different. One of the lead residents gave me a piece of paper with a patient history on it and she told me that this person was my patient. I was to go see how he was doing, perform a basic physical, review his labs, develop a plan and then present everything to the attending and the other residents.
I knocked on the door to my patient’s room with shaking hands and a dry mouth—all reminding me of just how nervous I was. After I entered the room I realized he was extremely hard of hearing. I had to talk extremely loudly the entire interaction. After getting his history, progress and reviewing his labs, I returned to the doctor’s lounge to review his information with a resident. She gave me crash course on presenting to attendings. I was remarkably comfortable during the presentation and was encouraged with the positive feed back I received. I do remember being asked a few questions I didn’t know the answer to.
Were you nervous?
I was incredibly nervous. I wasn’t expecting to have so much responsibility so soon. However, I was excited about the opportunity. I am well aware of my role as a student, and part of learning in medicine is doing things that make you nervous. I’ve tried to learn to approach new opportunities with eagerness because I know that hopefully the next time I do it, I’ll be more comfortable and better at it.
What did you learn?
We had learned about different types of anemias during my first year in medical school. My first patient had anemia and some additional problems. I was able to see a real person with the classical symptoms of iron deficient anemia: an extremely long capillary refill time, normocytic and hypochromic red blood cells on a peripheral smear, and very low hemoglobin and hematocrit. Now those images are etched into my mind indelibly. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first patient because of this. It was so exciting getting to use a little bit of what we’d learned in class in a real patient setting. After all, that’s why we all go to medical school.
What do you wish you’d known before the first experience?
My patient had very bad hearing. I wasn’t really expecting this. I was uncomfortable talking so loudly with another person. However, after a few sentences of dialogue with him, I relaxed and got more comfortable. I wish I would have known more how to handle that situation prior to walking in his room, but I think I eventually figured it out.
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