Perhaps, the hardest three words for a medical student to say is, “I don’t know.”
Something about this phrase creates a sense of shame, insecurity, and inferiority in students who have typically been high-performing and high-achieving for a great deal of their lives. There is a real danger to telling a patient something that may or not be true.
In the worst case scenario, giving false information to a patient could be fatal, but to conjure up an answer to your attending physician, as your colleagues stare at your lips with an uneasiness that makes your stress hormones go into overdrive, is tricky as well. When your attending physician puts you on the spot, do you give it your best shot and recall an answer from “Boards and Wards,” or do you stand there and try to look as if you are dutifully contemplating the question with hopes that he or she will take the spotlight off of you and answer the question? This has been my experience countless times and more often than not, the physician waited for my answer, which was often wrong. My best advice: I don’t know.
by Chinwe Okeke, Class of 2011