Medical students have a tough time getting through their studies, it can feel like you’re training forever, and in some ways, you are. One of the key stages of becoming a doctor or specialist physician is the two years you’ll spend as a junior doctor (foundation doctor). In this time you will see a huge variety of patients, from the simple to the complex, those who have been in hospital many times and those who have never been before, it’s a huge learning experience.
One type of patient you’re likely to come across is one who isn’t happy about being treated by a junior doctor. As someone seemingly inexperienced, some patients don’t feel like they’re in the most capable hands, often overestimating the involvement that you will have in their care. Doctors need to be trained and patients need to be treated, but why do people dislike being treated by a junior doctor?
A junior doctor is usually much less confident in making a diagnosis than a doctor who has been practising for years, and unless they are absolutely certain they can and will ask a senior. Junior doctors are often given the tasks of talking to the patient to find out their history, do the right checks and make sure they’re comfortable. A patient will get to spend more time talking to a doctor in training, who will assess their needs.
Students are often more connected to their patients than other doctors, as they have to learn about who they’re treating and about patient-doctor interactions. You’re not just learning about the diagnosis, you’re learning about how to actually be a doctor. Give the time to your patients and listen to any questions that they have, be friendly and smile a lot, you’re there to make them feel better, not just regarding treating their illness, but making them feel safe and looked after.
Be confident, or if you’re not confident, make sure you come across that you are. Introduce yourself to the patient, explain what you’re going to be doing and your role in their care. Ask simple, friendly questions to help them relax, even if it’s just a ‘how are you?’, listen to their response and see if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable. It doesn’t matter how many questions you ask (as long as you don’t ask the same ones over and over again!), just try to get the fullest picture that you can.
If you’re working with children, you have the tricky task of making the child not be scared of you or the hospital, whilst explaining to worried parents what’s wrong with their son or daughter in the most realistic way you can. Show them (if they’re not bed-bound) the play room and avoid using scary words or phrases that they don’t understand. Parents want the best for their children, and they can be difficult to deal whilst you’re training.
Being a junior doctor is something that every doctor has to go through, some patients can be difficult, especially when you’re not fully qualified. Remember though, that most patients are just happy to be being looked after! Times of illness are stressful, and through your career you’ll need to be as understanding as possible.