Sometimes the patient hates me before I even walk in the room.

There’s nothing worse than my preceptor running behind schedule.

The patient doesn’t know or care that it’s for a legitimate reason. Or that I stayed up late last night to read their files, view their MRIs, or read a veritable textbook of sources about their disease.

They only care that they’ve been waiting for an hour, that I don’t respect the value of their time, and that they finally have someone to yell at.

I used to handle this by apologizing, but that just gave them an excuse to keep berating me.  Usually with something reasonable like “Well, maybe you could try NOT TRIPLE-BOOKING YOUR PATIENTS” or “Maybe you could LET ME KNOW that you’re dealing with an emergency in another room.”

The worst part is that they’re technically right – even if they are blaming the wrong person.  The truth may not hurt, exactly – but it… stings a little.

Still.  That “woe is me” attitude was getting me nowhere fast, so I tried just brushing it off.  It’s surprisingly easy to do – you just think, “Wow, they’re acting like a jerk.  Oh well, not my fault!” and move on.  Just ignore it.  Not my problem.

But today I realized that instead of feeling guilty and stressed-out (like I do when I’m apologetic) – ignoring the patient’s obvious passive-aggressiveness just makes me hate the patients right back.

… like, a lot.  You begin to see the patient as an obstacle to getting through your work instead of the entire point of being at work in the first place.

I think I’m beginning to understand how people get so jaded in medicine.

… Just one of those days, I guess.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes the patient hates me before I even walk in the room.

  1. I’ve never been rude to a student–and they’ve generally picked up on the adrenal stuff in my history only to be smacked down by the doctor that it’s too rare to happen (which it’s not rare, but that’s a whole other tangent)–but I’ve also never had the impression that they knew anything about me or my history either. I’m shocked to see that med students read up on patients. I always had the feeling they didn’t even know there would be a patient in the room and I’m just a surprise they now have to do something medical with.

    Jaded is bad. Do whatever it takes not to go there.


    PS: I prepare for double and triple booking by bringing books to read. Bibliophiles make patient patients. When I had a corporate cubicle gig, there was nothing better than three hours in a waiting room with a good book.

  2. I’ve never had someone say exactly how I felt more perfectly than this. It’s SO frustrating when you’re a student getting yelled at for very legitimate things completely out of your control. And the whole thing about obstacle vs. entire purpose- YES. I’m going to use that line all the time at work now. Couldn’t be more spot on.

  3. Yes, an emotionally draining part of medicine is the frequent finding of yourself spending time and energy on everything but medicine: begging people to do their job, hospital politics, calming frustrated patients, etc. In other words, medicine, except for the medicine part, is like any other job.

    Don’t despair. As the medicine becomes second nature, you’re also developing skills for navigating humanity and institutions. Those universal challenges can be as compelling as making a diagnosis.

  4. Your post is so true!

    I’m only a med student (albeit an old one) and not a doctor yet but I experienced the same change in attitude. Patients used to shout and complain at me even as a volunteer. A volunteer with a big volunteer’s name badge pinned to my chest.

    It was usually the food which was too hot, too cold, overcooked, undercooked, tea too strong. There was a grumbly man I called “weak tea guy” but after getting his tea right (teabag in cup of boiling water for 0.75 seconds and no more) he became nicer and we’d have great conversations about his youth and previous work. I realised he wasn’t a bad person but just in low spirits because of his terminal illness. Unfortunately, after I returned from a holiday he had passed away. Now I don’t let it stress me out anymore, maybe the grumpy ones just need a bit of attention.

    I still work at the same hospital ward but as a paid healthcare assistant in my spare time. When there are grumpy patients I just do what I can for them and think how privileged I am to be studying medicine.

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