It is impossible to ignore the election season, with the candidates’ advertisements a constant presence on my television screen. No matter the party, the message is always the same: you should trust me. Trust is important in the practice of medicine as well. Every day, we ask patients in our care for their trust. Yesterday, I went into the operating room to greet my patient who has severe rheumatoid hand and wrist deformities. I outlined to her, as I always do before surgery, the potential for complications and adverse events. My patient did not say anything as she listened intently to the descriptions of the surgical procedures I would perform. When I was done, she uttered a few compelling words, “Dr. Chung, I trust you; that’s why I came to you.” At that moment, I did not think much of what she said; I have heard it many times from the patients who seek me out to care for them.
As a daily routine, I reflect on the events of the day so I can appreciate what I have done well and learn from what I can do better. What my patient uttered to me today, “I trust you,” resonated with me. When someone says they trust you, it has profound emotional meaning. People say trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. As physicians and surgeons, the trust that our patients put in us is an incredible, intense bond between two people who, let’s be honest, hardly know each other. I always feel an immense responsibility to my patients even for the simplest procedures such as carpal tunnel surgery or cyst removal because the patients have placed their trust in me to make their lives better. This trust is even greater when parents put the lives of their children, their most precious gifts, in my hands when I conduct surgery. On reflection, when that patient utters those words, “Dr. Chung, I trust you,” the gravity of those words underscore the special relationship between the physician and the patient.
Changes in the health care environment have made most of our communications with patients electronic. The physician-patient relationship has changed, and we as physicians and surgeons need to strive to connect and build trust with our patients. After all, it is these sacred human bonds that call on us every day to get up and make life better for someone in need.
I recently came across an online story in which a father and young daughter are crossing a creaky bridge over a roaring river. The father, obviously quite nervous about crossing the river, said to his daughter, “You hold my hand and then we will walk across the bridge together.” The young girl countered, “No dad, I want you to hold my hand.” The dad looked at his daughter incredulously, “What is the difference whether I hold your hand or you hold my hand?” The girl looked up at her father and said, “If I hold your hand and we fell into the river, I may have to let go of you; but if you hold my hand, I am certain no matter what happens, you would never let me go.” As I walk into the operating room pondering the meaning of the word trust and as I hold my patient’s hand as we talk before surgery, I know I will have to put my best effort forward, for she has put the ultimate trust in me. And I will not let go of her hand.
The author has no financial interest to declare in relation to the content of this communication.
Kevin C. Chung, M.D., M.S.
Section of Plastic Surgery
University of Michigan Health System
1500 East Medical Center Drive
2130 Taubman Center, SPC 5340
Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109-5340
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