how to freak a neurotic med student out

Be their PCP and call her (or more accurately, have a PA call her), telling her, “Dr. X would like you to come in to discuss your lab results.”

What’s there to discuss?! It was just my annual exam! There’s nothing to discuss unless there’s actually something wrong! And if there’s something wrong, why can’t you just tell me?! Now I have to wait two whole anxiety-filled days before I even find out what’s wrong giving my crazy med student mind plenty of time to come up with all the worst possible diagnoses. And if it’s not so serious, wouldn’t you just call in a prescription to the pharmacy and have me pick it up? Why do I need to see you? You wouldn’t be wasting precious office time with me if it’s not serious. Which just serves to freak me out all the more.

All freaking out aside, I doubt that my reaction is any different from what non-medically trained patients feel. Hearing your doctor say, “We need to discuss your lab results” is just like hearing your significant other say the dreaded, “We need to talk.” Nothing good can come of it and the anticipation just drives us crazy. Is there a better way of breaking bad news though? Not really. I probably wouldn’t want to hear that I have six months to live over the phone. But being told that I need to come in to hear the news doesn’t make it any easier. It implies that something is wrong because if everything were okay, I wouldn’t have to come in at all. And that sets off a whole frightening world of possibilities that may or may not be ultimately confirmed when I finally do see the doctor. If my fears are confirmed, then will I feel better? Probably not, because I would have preferred to know sooner instead of waiting days to find out. What if my fears are baseless and it’s just a minor issue? Then I’ll wish that I was just told on the phone so that I wouldn’t have freaked out all those days while I was waiting to find out. It’s a no-win situation.

With all of the demands of medical practice, it’s often difficult for us to fully empathize with patients and see how a seemingly harmless action (such as the simple “we need to discuss your lab results” phone call) can have a drastic effect on a patient’s life—how we can put a patient’s life on hold with just a few simple words. Experiencing these things firsthand as a patient helps remind me of what it’s like to be in the patient’s shoes and to more closely pay attention to such things, even if there are no easy answers (a big plus for INTP-me, who has a hard time empathizing with people in the first place).


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