Oral & Maxillofacial Resident asks, ‘How do I prevent being brushed-off from patient because I’m just a ‘resident’?

Surgical resident visiting patient

Twelve UCSF oral & maxillofacial residents entered the conference room at 7AM for my lecture. They were polite but I got the feeling they wondered why they had to hear from a patient when that happens every day on rounds. However, five minutes into my talk I noticed their stiff body language soften. At the end, their questions demonstrated they valued the experience. Here are a couple of questions and my answers:

Question: “When I walk into a patient’s room, no matter what I say, they treat me with a lack of interest and ask for the ‘doctor’. How can I change that?”

Answer: Do you say ‘How are you?’ when you enter a room? If so, I’m not surprised you get a brush-off. ‘How are you?’ is an irritating question because it’s so unspecific. A more specific question shows you have an interest in this particular patient. As a patient, I would have liked if the resident entered the room, and shared with me a specific detail about me, my operation, my case. Any information specific to me would spark my interest in a conversation. A specific piece of information shows you care about ME. When I know you care about me, I care about you.

Question: “I entered a room last week and responded to the angst in the patient’s face by saying, ‘I know this is difficult.’ The patient barked back saying, ‘You have no idea what this is like!’ What can I say to improve the rapport I have with patients?”

Answer: If you want to develop rapport with a patient, share something about yourself first. What interests you about me and the surgery I had and why? Do you have a special interest in a certain aspect of my case? What do you love about the residency field you are in? By sharing something personal about yourself, I’m more apt to share something personal about myself relating to my current state of health. This script would have worked magic on me:
‘I DON’T know how you feel, but I do know that several patients I visit have many questions. By sharing with me how you feel and how you cope, I can help others who desperately need support with your story.’

If I heard this, I would feel empowered! Just by sharing my story with you, I could be helping others! When feeling down and out, at the beckon call of doctors, nurses, aids, AND residents, I ask you, what could make a person feel better than to help another patient like themselves??

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