The painting on the cover of this issue is inspired by one of my favorite quotes by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard,1 who wrote, “To help somebody, first of all you must find him where he is and start there. This is the secret of caring.” I find that this advice can be applied to the medical provider–patient relationship; in understanding where an individual patient is, one can provide more effective care for the individual.
Being in the hospital can be a difficult and painful experience for patients and their families. The hospital is not only a physical structure and an organization in which the medical staff work, but, for patients, it is also a place of hope, fear, and uncertainty. Patients do not just see the objective information concerning their medical condition and its evolution, nor do they just see the protocol that might be established for the treatment of a specific disease process. They have their own unique stories and feelings of being ill and of being in the hospital, which are often stronger and more complex than what can be expressed in words.
Sometimes it can be difficult to put ourselves in others’ shoes so that we can feel and understand what they are experiencing. Yet, as empathy emerges, we can develop a more authentic relationship with our patients. This form of perceiving offers a unique understanding of a patient’s health care outside the technical knowledge that we learn through our readings and our class lectures. Recognizing and valuing the experience of patients allows us to assign meanings to the hospital environment from the perspective of unfamiliarity with the technical medical setting.
As I become more involved in patient care through my clerkships, I find that patients and their families are grateful for little actions and words. Sometimes these are events that are not typed into the electronic medical record or announced during patient rounds. They could range from providing warm blankets to patients to explaining when, where, and why lab tests and procedures are being performed. While these activities may seem simple in nature, they can create moments that have a significant impact on the patient–provider relationship and the patient experience in the hospital.
is a fourth-year medical student, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston Salem, North Carolina; e-mail: email@example.com.
1. Kierkegaard S. The Sickness Unto Death. 1989.London, UK: Penguin.