I’ve Never Heard of That
A student talks about the Social Issues in Medicine course
During my first year of medical school, as part of the Social Issues in Medicine course, I had the privilege of working with UVA Patient and Family Education in a project that focused on helping individuals at risk of not being able to keep track of their medications. These individuals were usually, though by no means exclusively, elderly and situated in places such as senior centers and nursing homes. Many of them suffer from memory-impairing diseases such as Alzheimer Disease. I was assigned the task of distributing small ed cards designed to list all medications one takes, as well as other important information such as resting blood pressure, cholesterol level, and even emergency contacts.
The majority of my weekly visits to these senior centers took place in Charlottesville, but on one occasion I was asked to visit a small center in Nelson County, located about an hour south of Charlottesville. The drive was long, but the scenery undoubtedly pleasant. When I finally arrived at the center I was amazed at how hidden it seemed, located after a series of turns on very small roads. It did not help that I felt like an outsider and that I arrived 20 minutes late, especially since the seniors at the site and the staff were waiting for me to give a presentation. I asked myself if they would even care about the issues I was to mention, and did not want to be perceived as lecturing them.
The visit turned out to be one of my most rewarding experiences of my first year. Both the seniors and the nursing staff at the site were more than eager to obtain med cards to keep track of their medications. I also was able to help fill out the med cards of two elderly women that were unable to read. I was further captivated by how much they expected me to know and their expectations of how much I could teach them, especially concerning detailed questions about their medications. Being only a first-year medical student, I had virtually no knowledge of pharmacology, yet for them I was the doctor and found myself constantly reminding them that my knowledge was extremely limited, and that I was there simply to distribute these med cards and help people keep track of their medications. The experience was thus rewarding in how much they appreciated my presence there, and also humbling in how much I realized I have yet to learn. Then again, the latter point is a part of the routine in med school.