To the Editor:
When I entered my clerkship year, I was unprepared for the profound sense of loneliness that can come from being a medical student on rotations. Every few weeks, I am with a new team of people, in a new location. One of the strangest things about transitioning teams is that the team spends every day of that rotation together, and yet we barely know each other.
Sometimes I feel, during any given rotation, that my patients know me best. When I preround, some of them ask me questions about myself. Initially, I always redirected back to them, to their problem. I thought this was more professional—and efficient too. But I realized that just as pulling up a chair and sitting on the same level makes the patient feel more at ease, allowing patients to have a normal conversation with me amidst a disorienting hospital stay helped ground them. Some of my patients learned that I got married recently; that I have learned Mandarin; that I like to write. After we got to know each other, one patient who initially refused a recommended procedure said she would do it. I told her I had watched one of the procedures during my surgery rotation and it went well. “I’ll do it if you’re in the OR,” she said.
My residents and attendings have been kind but understandably busy. In elevators or on walks to other wings of the hospital, I try to make small talk. But I feel I am butting into time spent checking lab results on phones, texting nurses, discussing patients. I have realized with surprise that I like weekends in the hospital more, simply because our team often eats lunch together and chats.
Once, my assigned resident and I started the first day of a rotation by grabbing coffee—just free coffee from the attending workroom. We discussed expectations, but also life before medical school, and life outside. Even though we had a busy patient load to attend to, that sense of knowing each other felt important. I fault no one for the loneliness of clinical year; it is an effect of the medical training system. Teammates have less incentive or time to get to know each other because we know our team will soon dissolve. But I bet that taking the time to connect on a more human level—even with a simple 20-minute cup of coffee—would make those few weeks happier and more productive, even if we never see each other again.
Medical student, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; [email protected]; Twitter: @vidyavis; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2467-3245.