I like to believe that words can be likened to sutures. That the turns of phrases that we use to deliver unfortunate diagnoses and prognoses can be restorative, healing. I like to believe that the moments we spend at the bedside to listen, to share, and to learn are important.
I don’t like the emergency department. I didn’t like it as a medical student as I weaved my way between residents and attendings who ran through the pods with ultrasound probes. I didn’t like it last month as a first year resident as I worked my way toward room 45. Per chart review: 13 year old presenting after a syncopal event. Per observation: she was wearing glasses that were pretty cool (which I told her) and a bulky sweatshirt. She was incredibly tall (which I told her was an amazing thing) and incredibly reticent.
For those of us participating in the NRMP match, today is a big day. Scrawled in all capital letters in the box attributed to February 21st is “submission day.” In other words: rank lists are due. It’s crazy to believe that in less than a month, we’re going to find out: if we get our first job in medicine, whether or not we will have to move, and if we need to invest in a new wardrobe (like omg winter coats?). Pre-match anxiety is real (beyond real) and I’ve found myself re-reading my personal statement when I need a dose of reality, when I need a reminder of why I’m letting an algorithm decide my future, or when I need a source of motivation.
Some of you guys have reached out with questions about personal statements. My response: write something incredibly honest. There is no right way to approach your personal statement. I wanted to share a version of my personal statement with y’all. To all the fellow fourth years, hang in there my friends!
This time last year, I had a patient encounter that humbled me. This patient, let’s use a random name (I’m partial to Charlotte), presented to the clinic with a complaint of breast pain. I wrote about this patient encounter – so I don’t want to provide too many details here – and submitted my piece to the Gold Foundation. I felt extremely lucky to have placed 3rd in the Hope Babette Tang Humanism in Medicine Essay Contest. Now, I feel extremely proud to see my essay in this month’s issue of Academic Medicine.
Click on the image below in order to read the piece. Feel free to share your thoughts with me!
I nicknamed my favorite patient Little Bo Peep. I can explain: her earliest memory was of dancing through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, dressed as Little Bo Peep. She was 3 at the time, perhaps 4. It was hard for her to remember. Her memory had been “hazy,” she admitted cautiously — worried about how I would take that confession. She admitted a lot of things to me.
Over the course of two weeks, I noticed that we had a lot of shared interests: nail polish (eh, I’ll admit it), German Shepherds, and Russian literature – in particular, Anna Karenina.
She was dying — I think she knew that but I was blinded by my desire for her to live — and nonetheless she took such interest in my life. Carefully spun sentences stitched us closer together. Patients with terminal cancer have a great need for emotional support; I found myself holding her hand as she cried, painting her nails, cleaning her up after she vomited. We spent a lot of time talking – she hated to be alone – and I often told her that she knew me better than anyone else in New Orleans. She didn’t believe me, but it was true.
I was both fascinated and terrified by her disease process.