I have a smiley face sticker on the second “O” of DOCTOR written in big block letters on my hospital badge. An 11 year old boy with leukemia that loves to tell jokes gave it to me. I put it on my badge because I guess I find the fact that it says “doctor” pretty comical. I have to.
A few months ago I was a fourth year medical student, none of the responsibility with all of the glory. Now as an intern, I am expected to make the decisions, to take on the responsibility for human life and everything that it entails. I love my job. There’s honestly no greater feeling than going to work and spending your time meeting new people, hearing their stories, and trying to make their lives better. I loved it as a med student and I’m relishing in it now.
But as a med student I could hide behind my residents and attending. I didn’t need to have the answers, I was still learning them. Being a doctor is better than I could have ever dreamed, but the responsibility it carries is substantial. The patient is physically and emotionally vulnerable with you, putting their wellbeing entirely in your hands. The emotion hits you full force too; there’s no med student mask shielding you.
I’ve had to tell multiple people they were going to die, multiple children that their mothers would not be coming home, multiple parents that their child’s intellectual state was the best it was ever going to be. It’s rough. But as much as it sucks for me, it’s excruciating for them.
All I can do is support them–to try to get appointments when the hospital denies their insurance and to use connections to get a specialists to hear their cases. But most importantly, I can listen. I can try to take a few minutes out of my 12-16 hour day, where I have endless notes to write, phone calls to return, and meals left uneaten, to hear them. To sit at their bedside and listen as they talk about how scared they are, vent about how frustrated they are with the healthcare system and cards dealt to them, and tell jokes to ease their suffering even if they laughter is for a few moments. My job is to allow them to be vulnerable with me in a way they cant with their loved ones since they have to put on a brave front. Because as tired as I am, they are exhausted.
Maybe I put the smiley face sticker on my badge because I don’t have the answers, and it’s my way of showing the world that I’m aware of it too. It eases the fact that I don’t have a fraction of the medical knowledge required to feel like a competent doctor. That will take experience. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, and I’ve said, “let me check with the doctor in charge and I’ll get back to you” more than I can count. It comes with the territory, we’re all learning.
But in moments where I sit by a patient’s bedside at the end of the day and we share a laugh or I try comfort them when they cry, I feel more deserving of my job title.