Student News

Paperwork or patient connection?

By Dr Jessica Ryall

This article was first published in the AMA (WA) monthly magazine Medicus.

Jess RyallStarting my intern year with a mixed general practice and medical ward rotation in Albany has been an exciting and cool (literally, freezing) experience so far.

I have no doubt that every one of my fellow interns shared in the emotional rollercoaster that was week one – from elation to exhaustion, and from excitement
to feeling completely overwhelmed. 

While the novelty of being paid for our time is still fresh, so too are our communication, negotiation and med-charting skills. The student bubble wrap is gone, and we are now fully exposed to the demands, responsibilities and paperwork that all come with the
title of ‘doctor’.

As a medical student who lingered on the wards for longer than many and stalked many poor juniors, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what intern life entailed. However, knowing and doing are definitely two different things and while there have been several surprises, the most significant for me so far is how little time I now get to spend with patients.

The luxury of sitting and hearing about each grandchild or retirement hobby is no longer a practical reality as an intern. With time at a premium, building rapport and
connections with patients suddenly seems much harder to fit into the day and I’ve quickly learnt, it requires a more conscious effort.

Even after a week, I can see how easy it is to slip into “the man in bed 30” and not “Peter, the ex-vintner and local lawn bowls champion”. Or the awful feeling of getting to the end of a round and not being able to recall which patient is which, as the charts, notes and results have obscured me from the patient who lies beyond the files in my arms.

With constant phone calls, endless to-do lists and piles of discharge summaries, I found myself guilty of misclassifying non-medical interactions as potentially time wasting.

In the busy-ness of being busy, I’m trying to remind myself that what the patient will remember is not my charting ability, or the eloquence of my discharge summary, but
whether I addressed the things most important to them.

So, it is worth asking about the cricket score, or discussing knitting trends while I cannulate, or explaining that medication for the third time because their daughter has now arrived.

As I try to prioritise my many tasks and marry this with my current level of  (in)competence, I will continue tomake connecting with my patients a deliberate priority.

For I recognise that these moments of connection are as fulfilling for me as they are for my patients.

Dr Jessica Ryall
Intern, Fiona Stanley Hospital

Note: Dr Ryall was seconded to WA Country Health Service for the first few terms of her internship
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