Why Willing Patients In Teaching Hospitals Are Important- And You Should Treat Them So

Originally published May 19, 2018

As medical students a patient who teaches may sound surprising, is it that they are a medical professional turn patient?

What could I possibly mean?

Patients who teach are my favourite patients, these are the ones who understand that they are at a learning hospital and gladly allow you the opportunity to look, poke and probe!

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy (S3: E13) when a young female patient came in for a vaginal exam, which she allowed one of the surgical interns to do the examination and allowed all of them to look.

…Unfortunately it turned out that she had advanced cervical cancer which had metastasised (aka the cancer was spread all over her body- yikes!)…

We, as students, must be grateful for these patients who allow themselves to be put on display and used as practice for us as we go through our medical career. Often times our classes are larger than they should be and there will sometimes be more than 4 students wanting to poke at the patient.

I don’t think we understand that what is interesting to us can be terrifying for our patients.

Sometimes we can be so callous and only see our patients as learning material and not as persons. I admit that it can be hard to hide excitement at an interesting pathology- but we must remember that an interesting pathology is often bad news for a patient!

Luckily, I have had good experiences with patients who willingly allow me to look, prod and probe! I have realised that when you have a pleasant bedside manner, are patient and respectful, patients are often very willing to let you learn from them.

When patients become shy or say they’re tired, it is not up to us to force or coerce them into doing what we want them to do. Sometimes we have to take our losses and move on.

All in all, patients who act as our teachers are a blessing to students, and as we move throughout our medical career they make impactful impressions on our medical life.

Samantha C. Johnson.

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