Medical students: Learn from every person

If you are a first-year medical school student, I’m sure you’ve heard how hard the road is ahead. You will be told to pay attention to your wellness and the wellness of your colleagues around you. You will also be told to ask for help when needed. These are all great pieces of advice.

My particular advice to you is to remember that while you will learn a lot in class or from studying, it’s important to remember that every single person you encounter has something to teach you about being a doctor. Every. Single. Person.

When I was a medical student in the pediatric intensive care unit, I had an attending physician who knew everyone’s name – from the unit clerk to the food service employees. He instilled in us how important every role was to patient care. Recently, I had a personal experience that demonstrates this point.

Baylor College of Medicine School of Medicine’s class of 2021.

A few years ago, my husband woke up in the middle of the night screaming and crying in pain. At 2 a.m., with no family in town to call on, I took my husband and our three children, all under age nine, to the emergency room. The ER was crowded and we were put in a small room and myself and the children sat on the floor. As each person came in the room to introduce themselves – the nurse, the phlebotomist, the medical student, the resident, and the attending physician – my daughter would start crying, worrying if her daddy was going to be OK.

After we’d been there for well over an hour, the housekeeper came in to empty the trash. He saw we were shivering on the floor and that my kids were tired, nervous and out of sorts. I remember he told them a joke, complete with hand gestures and funny faces. He brought out smiles that eased the tension. A bit later, he brought me a chair, blankets and pillows for the children. He later saw my daughter sniffling and brought her a box of Kleenex.

Morning came and along with it a change of shift. A new team came in one by one and introduced themselves. Lo and behold the new housekeeper came in. She said her friend had told her this room needed a little extra care. Within minutes she brought breakfast – the standard stash from hospital refrigerators – juice and packets of graham crackers for all my children. They thought it a feast for kings.

What you might not realize is that was a patient handoff. You will learn the importance of handoffs in the care for patients and that night, the persons who gave the absolute best care to my family were those two housekeepers. Yes, my husband’s kidney stone was well taken care of. However, the providers who made our experience bearable were the housekeepers.

So, students, please always remember that every single individual contributes to the care of patients and their families – and that you have something to learn from absolutely everyone!

-By Dr. Jennifer Christner, dean of the School of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

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