A third year student talks about a family meeting for a patient who is terminally ill
His son and wife were there as well as another son and his wife and four other family members. They hadn’t really come to terms with the fact that their father was dying, the oncologist hadn’t really given them information about the patient’s diagnosis, and they were really uncertain about how sick he was. We told them it would be a good time to let other family members know, and then we talked about Hospice….
The amazing part was that the questions were directed at me. It was my most major experience in being the doctor and taking ownership of my patient. I was the member of the team who was most in communication with him and his family. It just turned out that way, and the resident allowed me to have that space, and I felt comfortable taking it. The resident’s recognition of it afterwards was key. He gave me credit and told me that I did a fantastic job. That day, I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility.
Our team really, really gelled. I was treated as an equal member instead of just being an observer. Medical students, if given the opportunity and encouragement, can have an integral role. On the wards, the medical elements may be less important than the feelings, and that is where medical students can contribute. There is always an emphasis on diagnostic tests and labs and differential diagnoses, which is all extremely important; but, there is less of an emphasis on the doctor-patient relationship and on how to communicate with patients and their families. A patient’s not just a person lying in the bed, and I think that’s really important to always remember.