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Connect With the Patient Behind the Disease

It wasn’t until the 8th slide of the lecture that I began to feel uncomfortable. I fidgeted in my seat a bit as I stared at the presentation outlining the typical symptoms of IBD. It would only be several days later, during a conversation with a close friend, that I would truly understand the source of my unease. My complex experience as a Crohn’s disease patient had been reduced to a few words on a PowerPoint slide. Granted, I understood the necessity of it. There is simply not enough time in the medical school curriculum to dive into all of the social, psychological, emotional, and physical consequences of each and every disease we come across during our training. Even understanding this though, it still felt… wrong. Incomplete.

||Read: Personal Statements and Emotional Topics||

I thought back to all of the diseases I had learned about over the past year and a half. I had studied them religiously, committing the relevant physiology, symptoms, methods of diagnosis, and treatment to memory. And yet, how often had I stopped to consider that somewhere in the world, someone was suffering from one of the debilitating, life-altering, earth-shattering conditions I had learned about? How often had I truly considered what the word “pain” meant for someone, or how that might adversely alter his or her day-to-day life? Even being a patient myself, I had failed to connect with the patient behind the disease.

During the first two years of our medical training, there can be an emotional disconnect with the patient experience as we garner the basic knowledge necessary to become competent physicians. I am fortunate, like many of my medical school colleagues, to attend an institution that stresses the complex issues we will face as physicians, including empathizing with our patients. I am thankful that my medical school insists on having patients come in to speak with us about how they are coping with their diagnosis, even though it is often a painful topic to discuss. Such intense moments of unvarnished emotion are truly a precious gift, one that cannot be garnered from any textbook or set of lecture notes. They have, at times of extreme stress and fatigue, reignited my flame and passion for medicine.

||Read: Develop Compassion Before Medical School||

It is never too early for us to learn the importance of human connection and the necessity of compassion. Even though I am still in my pre-clinical years, it is important for me to remember that diseases are not an abstract idea. It is up to me to remember to pause periodically and reflect on the conditions I’ve learned. More importantly, however, it is my responsibility to remember that behind the diseases we so painstakingly put to memory, is an individual that suffers.

Parrisha Martelly is a 2nd year medical student at the Charles Drew/David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor.

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