I always find it a conundrum when I am exposed to a rare finding that I have only read about in textbooks. To study it in print is one thing, but to observe it in action, incubating inside a living, breathing patient who is at risk of losing life, or quality of life, is a disheartening experience. Every case study was someone’s parent, daughter, son, or sibling. It is easy to dehumanize the patient as nothing but a collection of symptoms and expected outcomes until you look him in the eye, see the concern in his family, hear the numerous questions that flood from his mouth. It is at this point when I realize that we are health care providers, not just problem solvers. We are in the people business.
I feel more of a dilemma when I watch my classmates say “cool” or “awesome” when they see something that is rarely seen. While I certainly understand the excitement of learning something in a practical setting, which solidifies book knowledge like no other experience can, I find it a bit morbid that medical students like to see pathology. Perhaps a little sensitivity is lacking when medical students are happy that they have seen in incurable disease or an end-stage process that likely will end in the patient’s fatality. We are expected to be compassionate to be patients, but perhaps in the throes of executing our responsibilities, compassion becomes the redheaded stepchild. Maybe it’s me. Then again, maybe I’m not sensitive enough.
by Chinwe Okeke, Class of 2011