Friday, December 28, 2007

Feeling lowly.

It's nice to hear that I should start to notice a feeling of "I am actually needed" eventually...

...even though I haven't yet been able to find any evidence that the feeling of "I have no idea what I'm doing" ever really goes away.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Words I'd use to describe med school: Honour

There are a number of words I'd use to describe med school. This blog post is the first of a small series I'll devote to expanding upon these words.


I've heard people joke about it before. "You know, you're lucky... as a doctor you're one of the few people who can get someone to to take their pants off for you within minutes of having met them!"

That's not necessarily always a fun thing, considering how unpleasant it is to perform a digital rectal exam on, say, a patient who has lost control of their bodily functions and hasn't showered in weeks.

But that borderline crude statement has a lot more to it than just humor.

Statements like that only scrape the surface of the depth of the honour it is to be able to practice medicine...something that we med students can occasionally tend to lose sight of when we are in the midst of 80-hour work weeks on the wards, or in our tenth 15-hour study day in a row, or when we've just been humiliated by a preceptor in front of both our colleagues and patients.

While I can use this blog to complain about finals or how much stress I'm feeling at times, I probably don't say enough that I do feel honoured to be a part of this profession.

There are so many ways in which this honour is revealed. Here are a few I can name:

  • Medicine: a profession to which people are willing to donate their bodies...their most personal possession....after they die. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: a profession to which people are willing to give you a huge amount of trust just because you are a part of the profession. Depending on where you look, physicians may not be the #1 most trusted profession, yet around the world, they almost always fall in the top 10 (BBC: Doctors #1; Harris: Doctors #1; Ipsos Reid Canada: Top 5; Reader's Digest Australia: Top 10). It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the professions in which there are so many sides and approaches to the common goal of health, and in which those various health professionals are starting to work harder to work together to achieve this goal. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the few reasons that a driver, though enraged by the thick of traffic, would still be willing to pull over. I've seen people grumble when a cop turns on the siren to whiz through a red light, but never when an ambulance has come through. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the few professions legally allowed to self-regulate by the Canadian government. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: the reason why people will open up to me their deepest secrets, the greatest extremes of their emotions, their first and last moments on this earth...all because of my field of study. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the areas of study that thousands of the most intelligent university graduates fight for the chance to be able to enter every year. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the professions where you are able to call some of the most brilliant, accomplished, fascinating and devoted people your colleagues. It's an honour to be a part of that.
  • Medicine: one of the professions with a longstanding legacy throughout centuries, and is continually looking back into its history and deep into its future to better itself for the good of the patient. It's an honour to be a part of that.


Even if I could think of all the reasons why it's an honour to be studying medicine, I don't think all of them could be put into words.

That being said, I know I've missed some... if anyone is reading this and can think of some I've missed, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

When the dust settles

It was just as if a hurricane had passed.

The merciless pounding stopped,

     and everyone began to come out of their makeshift shelters,

          wandering bleary-eyed into the streets,

               looking at the destruction around them,

                    assessing what little they had left of their friends, and social lives, and dignity.

And they began to talk to each other,

     wondering aloud,

          putting into words the thoughts they were all thinking...

"Did that really happen?"

          "I can't believe I made it. There were times when I didn't think I would."

               "Can it actually get worse?"

                    "I'm not sure anybody would understand what this was like if they didn't see it with their own eyes."

Yep... finals for the term are now done... and another semester is over.

Time to enjoy the precious few weeks of recovery before it all starts again in January.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

You know you're consumed by studying when...

I found this list in a friend's Facebook notes... and with her permission, am reproducing it here for your reading pleasure. I won't pretend that I'm coherent enough to be this creative at this point right before finals... this many 15-hour study days in a row is enough to shut down most basic cognitive functioning.

You know you're consumed by studying when...

10. You think osteoclasts are cute (white furry balls!)

9. It seems like you're studying more than breathing

8. Things that secrete mucus are mucous-secreting
(clarification for those not in our class: incorrect spelling = incorrect answer = no marks. because we don't have enough stress!)

7. Breaks consist of eating

6. You don't sleep, you nap

5. You look forward to sleeping

4. Taking a shower is a relaxing activity

3. A change of scene involves studying a different block

2. Hearing "6 days til the holidays" provokes fear, not excitedness

1. You think personal hygiene is an option, not a necessity

Okay... back to work!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Final are depressing. No, really - I can prove it.

School in itself is a challenge for most of my classmates and myself, especially with finals study time in full swing. Apparently they want doctors to know a lot of things.

I looked at
a post I wrote about this time last year and it's very similar to how I feel right now.

One of the differences this year, though, is I know my classmates a lot better, and so I'm much more aware this time around that many of us have a lot of additional stress outside of class. There are a number of students that I am genuinely worried about - I honestly don't know how they have the strength or stamina to get out of bed every morning, considering what they have going on in their lives.

This year in clinic I learned about a questionnaire called the PHQ-9, which the physicians gave to some patients as part of a comprehensive assessment for depression.

As I got to know the questions better, I began to realize that if you took a survey of my class right now - in the middle of finals season - based on this questionnaire I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority of them would register as "severely depressed."

In fact, to prove it to you, I'll go through it right now:

Over the last 2 weeks, have you been bothered by any of the following problems?
a. Little interest or pleasure in doing things
Check. Even things I used to like doing, like learning about medicine. Too much of a good thing, you know? Like a dump truck full of ice cream.

b. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
Check. Despite the overwhelming statistical precedence that 99% of us will pass, everyone I talk to thinks they will be the one person who will fail.

c. Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
Some of my classmates are so revved up that they are self-medicating just so they can sleep at night.

d. Feeling tired or having little energy
Try exhausted. And I don't think it's African Sleeping Sickness.

e. Poor appetite or overeating
One classmate told me that her theory is that "everyone in our class either gains or loses weight during finals."

f. Feeling bad about yourself, feeling that you are a failure, or feeling that you have let yourself or your family down
Wow, I swear the writers of this questionnaire talked to my classmates

g. Trouble concentrating on things such as reading the newspaper or watching television
Haven't had time to do either of those. But trouble concentrating while studying...check.

h. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed. Or being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
Absolutely. Mini-anxiety attacks will do that to ya.

i. Thinking that you would be better off dead or that you want to hurt yourself in some way
Not me in particular, but there are some in my class who might...I've heard comments like "I want to crawl in a hole and die," "Maybe I should just drown myself in the bath," and "If only I had a gun." Which ones should I be taking seriously?

Major Depressive Syndrome is suggested if:
• Of the 9 items, 5 or more are checked as at least "More than half the days."

Proven. VoilĂ .

In fact, if I could find a checklist for "Cabin Fever," given the number of students cooped up in a study room for the last few weeks I can guarantee we'd score pretty high on that one too.

At least our faculty isn't like some other ones I know of, which, in response to student comments that the curriculum is stressful, recommend that the students a) seek counselling - kind of not an option given the limited free time during finals study time - and b) take anxiolytics, ie. medicate the stress away. Thanks for your support.

Gonna get back at it. Wish me luck.

(Again, this is not a place for you to be getting medical advice, but if any of the above apply to you - and things won't return to normal on a set date ie. you aren't in the midst of finals - please book an appointment with a professional!)

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Monday, December 03, 2007

The Opposite of Turnstile Medicine

My clinic experience this year was an incredible treat for me. It was a rare setting where the doctors are paid a set salaried wage, rather than based on the the number of procedures they did (fee-for-service). I was amazed at how differently the day went than it might go in a walk-in clinic.

Instead of racing through the patients as if there was a turnstile at the door that went 'ka-ching' for every patient in and out, the doctors were taking the time to address the whole-body health of the patient - something I hadn't seen a whole lot of in family practice so far.

Though I could give many examples, I keep thinking about one particular patient for whom this clinic worked particularly well. He presented with a rash.

If he had gone to a walk-in clinic, he would probably have gotten some steroid cream within a minute and been told to come back if the rash didn't go away.

At this clinic, however, knowing that she had fifteen minutes for this patient, the doctor took the time to take a full history, considering a wide possibility of conditions that could be causing the problem.

Through this history, the doctor learned that the patient was in a high-risk relationship for a number of sexually transmitted infecitons, and as a result, was able to counsel the patient on a number of risk-reduction measures and vaccinations that he should consider.

Another benefit of this clinic was that it was incredibly integrated - there were counsellors, nurses, a travel medicine specialist, a mental health intake worker, a sexual health specialist, and a physiotherapist all on site. I have heard a lot of team medicine, but haven't seen it come into play very often, so it was amazing seeing these professionals work together for the best interests of their patients.

For example, with this same patient, when the relationship came up in the history it became evident that his partner was a source of a lot of stress. Upon going over the additional stresses in this patient's life, and calculating the toll they were taking on him, the doctor uncovered that the patient was at risk for suffering from depression... and scheduled a follow-up visit - not only with a doctor - but with the counsellor on site as well.

Not only did the doctors simply refer the patients to the other health professionals, but I saw on a routine basis these other clinic staff come chat with the physician - or the physician go to their offices - to talk about a particularly unique patient and brainstorm on how to best take care of them.

These doctors really cared for their patients, more so than just getting the right diagnosis or catching the most medical conditions. Time and time again, they were willing to go above and beyond, even if it meant pouring a bit of extra effort and energy into a certain patient. It was obvious that time and time again they were making a difference in their patient's lives, and occasionally actually saving lives.

Don't get me wrong - there are rarely any physicians who don't want to take good care of their patients, and a number of family practitioners work as their own business and thus have to work extremely hard just to make ends meet - but after my past experiences observing family medicine, I was amazed to be coming home at the end of each shift thinking, "If family practice can really be like this, instead of just trying to cram in as many patients as possible, maybe I could see myself doing that kind of medicine in some form." Up until now, family practice was near the bottom of my list of interests.

I don't think the uniqueness of this clinic could all be attributed to how the payment schedule is structured, especially considering how much care these doctors had for their patients. But when I look at how this clinic is structured, and how every work day isn't a race to pile up completed charts, I now have a bit of a better idea of what type of career I'd prefer for myself, and also what I'll look for when I choose my own family doctor.

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