Real patients, real people

My medical students and residents are a pretty smart bunch.  They are from several different countries, and from all parts of the U.S.  Many grew up in families of modest means, and their parents have diverse educational backgrounds.  One fact that unites them is the group they have been with for the ten to twenty years: their peers have had the intellectual and economic resources to get into medical school.  By the time they enter their residencies, they have been surrounded by (generally) smart, academically successful, socially able young people.

When confronted for the first time by patients, the true diversity of humanity can come as a real shock.  Many patients have no idea what diabetes is or what the real risks of hypertension are.  They don’t know what “Sig: 1 tab p.o. BID” means.  Nor should they.  Medical jargon is very useful, but it can be a significant barrier to patient care if the physician forgets that the patient did not spend the last eight years learning the lingo.

Being a physician means being an educator. It means gauging the knowledge level of your patient and communicating essential information in a way the patient can understand and use.  It may mean calling something a “tube” or a “gland” instead of using a more technically correct word.  The smartest doctor in the world is useless unless he or she can give a patient information they can use.

2 Comments

  1. SurgPA

     /  September 2, 2010

    “Medical jargon is very useful, but it can be a significant barrier to patient care…”

    One of my instructors while in PA school liked to remind us that medical jargon/language is the tool we have to be able to speak to our patients without them being able to understand us. I did not fully appreciate the message until I’d been in practice a year or two.

  2. When confronted for the first time by patients, the true diversity of humanity can come as a real shock.

    Heh, yeah I imagine so. I know in talking to my friends, it is easy to lose sight of how broad the continuum really is, and how little we are really exposed to.

    I always tell people to use the “DMV test”. Whenever somebody says, “No way, there’s no way that a significant fraction of people could [do something that is unusual in our socioeconomic demographic, but not unusual at all for Americans in general],” I ask them to imagine the people they encountered on their last trip to the DMV. And even then, you are only getting a cross-section of Americans living in our general region of the country who are able to drive and leave the house…

%d bloggers like this: