I worked for a few years before medical school in women’s health research. I got a good deal of exposure to patients both through that work and also while volunteering in a free clinic in North Philadelphia. Most of the patients who I met as a researcher were very healthy. The patients in North Philadelphia often suffered from chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. There were also a large amount of clinic patients who had been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. During these years before medical school, I felt that I had received a pretty decent exposure to the spectrum of disease.
This Friday we had Neurology Classics. “Classics” are a chance to meet patients who have the diseases about which we are learning. For example, during a cardiology clinical foundations of medicine week, a patient who has a congenital heart defect might come in to meet with us. There are several patients present during each classics session and we rotate through exam rooms to meet them. We were told that the patients who come in for Neurology Classics are often the most ill of all the patients who we meet. Due to the nature of neurological illnesses, the neurology patients often struggle with mobility. Several other students and I volunteered to help patients get into the exam rooms on Friday morning.
I was in awe at how pleasant and kind all of the volunteers were. We met them around 7:15 AM in the hospital, and they were all much more awake and conversational than the medical students. Of course, they probably had slept a lot more than us medical students. I do not want to describe the symptoms of any of the patients; but I have such respect for all of them. It was difficult meeting so many wonderful people who have no chance at regaining their full function prior to their disease. It constantly amazes me how generous patients are during our training. In addition to classics, patients also give panel presentations to discuss their experiences. Sometimes it is daunting meeting patients who are extremely ill, because I can’t imagine ever having the skills to provide them with health care. At the end of this year, we need to do a complete history and physical. That seems confusing enough at this point in my education.