Filling in some more of the details about my trip to see the doctor, last week I went to the dermatologist for the first time. It has been on my list of things to do for a while, now. I am a great candidate for skin cancer because of my white skin and freckles and moles that approach the range of being uncountable. My wife read a news story about a 26 year old dying of skin cancer, and her paranoia was enough to get me to finally make that appointment.
Although you hear stories about dermatologists not having open spots for months at a time, they were able to get me in appointment within 10 days. I rode the free shuttle from BCM over to the BCM Mediacl Building, and a couple of things struck me right off the bat. First, all the other patients I saw were elderly. I think I was the only patient under 65. Second, the waiting room was very plush. Stuffed armchairs and sofas and fancy wooden room dividers gave a fancy feel to the place. Add large windows and a nice view from 6 stories up and you start to feel really comfortable.
They say dermatology is a lifestyle specialty. Since there aren't many skin emergencies that can't wait until the next day, there's not any call. Good pay and good hours make it one of the most competitive specialties in all of medicine. I and many other medical students have no desire to deal with pimples and warts and moles and other gross skin defects for the rest of our lives, but I can already appreciate the lifestyle.
Anyways, I checked in, and soon thereafter I found myself in the position that I described at the beginning of this post: half naked and filling out my paperwork. The doctor came in, asked a few confirmatory questions about why I was there, and then found out that I was a medical student.
He congratulated me, and the dynamic between us seemed to instantly change. He appeared friendlier and more talkative than he had a few seconds ago. He asked me some questions about how I'm enjoying school and what specialty I'm interested in, and then we proceeded to talk about my skin.
We talked about keratin, about the genetics of benign things like a cherry angioma, methods of taking biopsies, and other things that nobody really cares about except for health professionals. Again, I hardly felt like a patient and felt more like a student. My doctor was treating me and doing his job to try and prevent skin cancer, but a lot of what he was doing was simply answering my questions. He was educating me. He could explain things in a bit more detail than he probably does with most patients, but I don't really think our relationship was that much different than it would have been if I was not a medical student. At least it shouldn't be.
In the ideal world, all patients become a sort of medical student. Most people have questions about their health, and the doctor is the person who is supposed to provide the answers. For at least that 15 minute window of time in the doctor's office, the patient has a right to be the doctor's student. The tuition doesn't pay for more than that, but the patient has still hired the doctor to spend time talking and treating them. It would be a shame for doctors to not recognize this fact and to not realize that educating their patients is one of their prime responsibilities.
For at least a moment of time in that doctor's office, the terms patient and medical student should be synonymous.
I am a medical student at BCM and all thoughts are my own. I am not a doctor. Please read the disclaimer.
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