Doctors and Dr. Seuss

It's a full moon and I feel like philosophizing.  2012 got dubbed the "Year of Feelings" early on- thanks for that QJax- and has so far lived up to it's name.  One might think that philosophizing and discussing feelings wouldn't have a place on my med school blog, but that's where one would be wrong. 

There's this class that we're required to take every semester; it's called Doctor-Patient Relationship and each semester builds on the techniques and skills learned in the last semester.  It seems like it ought to be my favorite class- it basically screams INSERT LIBERAL ARTS DISCUSSION HERE- but it isn't, instead it just makes me sad.  We have to have a class to teach us how to empathize and how to be nice to patients and how to listen and how to deal with stress and how to discuss "uncomfortable" topics.  We have to have timed and segmented mock interviews where we practice empathizing with each other.  As in "now give 30 seconds for active listening" and "now 1 minute of emotion seeking."  It hurts my heart and makes me shake my head at the same time because honestly we really really need this class.  And that is the part that is a shame.  How have we made it this far in life and not learned how to actively listen or empathize or deal with stress or be responsible for ourselves? 

In passing conversation the other day I referred to myself as "a grown-assed woman," which was my particularly inarticulate way of saying that I, and I alone, take responsibility for my own decisions and words and actions and that I will stand behind them and that I won't be embarrassed or ashamed.  I try (and sometimes fail miserably) to think of the consequences of my actions and words on others before I do and say things.  I don't like to play fast-and-loose with other peoples' feelings and I don't like it when other people play fast-and-loose with mine.  I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to remember that, as my mother loves to remind me, "it isn't all about me."  I didn't give a second thought to the conversation or the phrase.  Days later someone repeated it to me and then a couple of days after that someone else mentioned it again.  Apparently it struck a cord with my peers.  As I got to thinking about it, it made sense because it seems like we're all struggling with this whole idea of being grown-ups, we're all trying to work out this life thing, and maybe none of us has any idea what in the hell we're doing. 

A line from a story my mom used to read to me when I was little feels particularly apropos here:  "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one-hundred percent."  That's from Dr. Suess' Horton Hatches the Egg.  Horton does what he says he would do, even though everyone thinks he is crazy because what he is doing only makes sense to him.  He has a strong sense of personal responsibility and never gives up. 

Maybe while we're trying to learn to be the best doctors we can be, we should remember that those lessons we learned from Dr. Seuss- stick-to-it-ness, compassion, whimsy, creativity and, of course, empathy- are just as important as everything science-based we're learning now.  


  1. I think one of the hardest parts of empathizing with other people is when we either dont know or don't like that person. For instance, if a patient came into a free clinic with track marks and said they were in pain, but that they were allergic to all the regular pain meds and needed oxy, it would be hard for me to empathize. I would immediately jump to conclusions instead of trying to empathize. Also, I find it very difficult to feel for people I don't like. To be able to step out of my personal shoes and into professional ones would probably take practice.

    And while a class probably isn't going to help with most of these things, active listening is probably hard for am busy doctor with other patients and their own life, but if they try top make an effort to actively listen, maybe it would help.

    Lots of rambling to say the obvious: doctor patient relationships are important, but hard. And a class can try to help, but probably will only help those people that have zero social skills to begin with.

  2. I agree that it is sad that we need a class to tell people how to just be nice people. But i guess it is harder than it looks. Also, I prefer a system that encourages the need for this class as opposed to us being in denial.

    On the Doctor Seuss note, way to be poetic about it. He always knows what is best and just how to say it so that it makes perfect sense. You go mrs. personal responsibility!

    And you are a grown assed woman. On her way to becoming a bad ass doctor.


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