Blog | Wednesday, September 4, 2019

'Am I the only thing standing between you and the weekend?'

I was recently working in clinic on a Friday afternoon. I was on my last patient of the day, and it had been a particularly long clinic. I had big plans for the weekend and should have already finished. The gentleman entered the room, sat down, and we began the consultation. Because I was so behind, I went through everything a little quicker than I usually would, but still covering everything required. He answered all my questions and told me what he needed to. His problems did not seem overly serious and he was otherwise quite healthy.

We got to the examination and I led him to sit over on the exam table. As I turned around to wash my hands, he said to me: “So Dr. Dhand, am I the only thing standing between you and the weekend?!” He said this in a somewhat jovial and friendly tone, definitely not in a derogatory way. However, he was an intelligent man and must have known he was my last patient of the day. As he asked me that, it made me stop in my tracks and wonder whether he had sensed that I was rushing through things to get him out of the room as soon as possible (which to be honest, I knew I was a little bit). I answered something along the lines of: “Oh, ha, yes my weekend is going to begin very soon!”

Anyway, him saying that really made me think that I was perhaps dropping my professional guard in how I was handling him. After all, he had been waiting for a very long time to see me and it wasn't this patient's fault that he had fallen last thing on a Friday. I decided that I would take a couple of deep breaths, slow down, and give him the full attention he deserved (and that I had given my first patient of the day). I deliberately went through the rest of the examination very slowly and then sat down with him again and made a conscious effort to address all concerns and answer any questions. I ended up spending a significantly extra amount of time with him, actually more than I usually would! Who cares if my weekend started 20 minutes later?

That interaction made me reflect on a couple of things. All doctors, including myself, are human. We need to get the job done and have lives outside of work. Me just as much as anyone else. Ask any physician, and they will tell you that the practice of medicine is full of moments like the above. Where we know we can do better, take just a little bit extra time, and give someone a few minutes more attention. It's so important to keep on remembering that every patient is unique and deserves our fullest consideration and very best care.

Most doctors already hold themselves to very high professional standards (and sometimes that can be our downfall). We want to do well and have strong ethical and professional standards. So much is expected of us. Every interaction and all our words (not just with patients, but other staff around us) carry immense weight—even though we may not always realize it. I'm sure no doctor ever wants their patient to palpably feel like they are in a hurry or their mind is somewhere else. And yes, maintaining that level of engagement and performance often involves personal sacrifices. In our unpredictable field there's really no way around that. No matter what hospital, clinic, health care system, or even country, we are in. You may be tired, hungry, worn down, or ready for a big weekend—but can never let your patients know it.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.