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Amber Robins: Diary of a Med Student

November 15, 2011: Delivering bad news

Author: Amber Robins

 November 15, 2011
Dear Journal,
Every Tuesday I go to a clinic where I see many very interesting patients. The experience is part of a course that I’m taking called Primary Care Clerkship at the University of Rochester. This week in the course we have been focusing on delivering bad news to patients. Delivering bad news is very difficult, but I had no idea how difficult it was until I saw it in person.
This Tuesday I had a patient with terminal cancer. The patient was very weak and had much difficulty breathing. The entire situation felt very sad, especially when I learned that the patient didn’t have long to live. When I walked into the room I felt the gloomy mood of both the patient and patient’s family member. It was like they already knew what was bound to happen eventually. The great thing is what I saw my preceptor do. (My preceptor is a Geriatrician and a great one at that.)
She came in the room with the most hopeful spirit. She was empathetic with the patient and listened to all the concerns the patient and his family member posed to her. It always fascinates me how my preceptor knows the right thing to say and do. She has a ritual of gently holding the wrist of the patient as she is talking to family members about what is going on with the patient.  What a powerful statement to any patient. It’s her way of letting the patient know that they are still involved in the conversation and that everyone in the room really cares. That is exactly what an amazing doctor does. The patient left that day knowing that the physician was doing all she could to improve his quality of life.
I have heard that physicians who get caught in their emotions aren’t the best doctors. I truly disagree. I think these are the best doctors because they have trained themselves to be sympathetic, caring, and objective in decision making when it comes to their patients. Understanding that patients are giving you the privilege of taking part in their personal lives is nothing to take for granted. As physicians and medical students we are given access to parts of people’s lives that not even the closest friend or relative of a patient may know. What an honor! What an amazing career!
Amber Robins, MS2

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