So part of our third year curriculum includes the much-loved warm-and-fuzzy doctoring class that kicks my ass because I’m so not warm and fuzzy.
I’ve been trying to not be super quiet, but it’s been hard because my group consists of people I don’t know who all seem to know each other so well and because there are a couple of extraverted people who tend to dominate the discussion. But I am thankful that there are only about 2 extraverts instead of 6 when I got screwed during my second year.
Well, the other day, our session was about dealing with family members of someone in the ICU who isn’t going to make it. The discussion centered on how difficult it is to handle such a tough, emotional situation in a way that makes the family feel better. And, of course, just to make things hard on us, there was going to be a standardized patient interview. We decided to fly by the seat of our pants early in the course, with the interviewer volunteering on the day of the interview instead of pre-assigning days to people. Of course, I did not volunteer. Not because I was afraid of it being too emotionally draining or heartbreaking or whatever. But because this case required loads of empathy, which I severely lack and I didn’t want to be evaluated doing the thing that I am weakest at (these stupid mock interview evaluations go into our Dean’s Letter to residency programs!). Someone else volunteered, so it was okay.
But after learning the heartbreaking details of this particular case, the volunteer interviewer chickened out, saying that she knew she would break down during the interview (which I thought was lame because we all know that this is fake!). She did break down right after making that statement and left the room in tears. Somebody apparently has too much empathy. So with her out of the picture, we had to procure another volunteer. And no one else volunteered. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t about to volunteer either. But after two prolonged awkward silences, I knew that I was ripe for being picked on because I hadn’t talked much in any of the prior sessions. So before I could be forced to “volunteer,” I volunteered.
And the interview was hard. Our standardized patients were an irate father and a hysterical mother. The mother I could deal with. The father…not so much. But I eventually muddled my way through and it wasn’t an utter disaster (as has happened to me before in my second year warm-and-fuzzy doctoring class). I actually got pretty good marks, which I’m happy about.
What I’m proudest of though is the fact that I volunteered and that I wasn’t as self-conscious and nervous as I usually am about these things. Maybe it’s because I don’t know these people and don’t care what they think of me. Who knows. But it was a really big step for me. This case was hard for me, but not in the same way as it was for other people. Everyone else’s heart breaks over the case itself and they fear that they cannot stay unemotional while talking to the patient’s family. I have the opposite problem: I don’t really care and I’m not very good at pretending that I care. Which one is harder to deal with? Well, I think that less people would fault an overly emotional doctor than they would fault one who just didn’t seem to care. There is such value placed on empathy that it makes me feel that I fail at being a doctor just because I lack in that area. Forget my smarts. I’m screwed because I don’t have empathy.
Well, at least I was able to fake it until I made it this time.