When your time consists mainly of recycling facts, it becomes surprisingly easy to transition into a binary state – either you’re learning, or you’re sleeping. While that operative mode allows us medical students increased efficiency, it also behooves us to reconnect with our more human sides.
Thankfully, once a week, we participate in a course called Principles of Clinical Medicine (PCM), or, as I like to call it, “How To Be a Good Doctor 101.” From week one, PCM guides us through the bigger picture of medicine, patient care, and how we, as future health care providers, can optimally function in it.
Recently, PCM tackled one of the more challenging topics for physicians – death. Once a patient passes away, the challenge of medical knowledge and knowhow disappears. There are no more labs to be drawn, no more tests to be done. Suddenly, we are extracted from the world of clinical medicine and deposited into the real world of emotions, subtleties and unfortunate realities. For those of us more comfortable padded by our knowledge of the human body, standing bare, our intellectual armor stripped by a patient’s death, is frightening.
Yet, it remains something we must do; indeed, something we must be good at doing.
During our PCM small groups, we confidentially shared stories of loss, grief, and death in a solemn and sometimes tearful environment. If that sounds sad, that is exactly how it should be. Death isn’t something to dodge with joviality, but rather grappled with, however messy it can be. Though those small groups were uncomfortable at times, I’m thankful we learned from each others’ stories and had the opportunity to reconnect with our more human sides.
Now, when it becomes our turn to become bearers of bad news, there is some reassurance that we may bear it right.