Thursday, April 7, 2011

When the student is ready, the teacher will (re)appear

Posted by guest blogger, Charles Saldanha MD

“When the student is ready, the teacher will (re)appear”
-variation on a Buddhist proverb

Just prior to starting internship, my classmates and I received a gift. It was a book called Through the Patient’s Eyes: Understanding and Promoting Patient Centered Care. I regarded it as a kind token intended to remind us, as we filled our heads with scientific and technical knowledge over the years upcoming, that patients came first. That’s what we’re about as physicians, right? I didn’t read it. I had plenty else to read and not enough time to sleep. Making sure that I was “up to date” felt far more important and urgent.

In subsequent years, the book found a cozy home on bookshelves in various apartments, homes, and offices. It made three cross country trips. In the meantime, I was trying on different professional hats, unconsciously seeking to reconcile diverse and at times divergent ideas of what it means to be a physician.

On a weekend morning a few months ago, the spine caught my eye as I sat in our living room. I extracted it from between old textbooks and paperbacks and opened it. The binding cracked like a new book. I smiled to find that the contents I dismissed as so obvious and straightforward as to not warrant reading, I now recognized as addressing the most fundamental and challenging parts of our work.

Today, we apply more scientific knowledge, technology, and financial resources toward restoring health than any other civilization has at any time in human history. Yet, even with this relative embarrassment of riches, we struggle and all too often fall short of providing the health care that patients want and deserve. The challenge of our time is harnessing resources and scientific advance in a way that moves health care forward, principally from the perspective of the patient. Our patients and their loved ones have need us to recognize the situation and take it seriously; certainly, the crisis is immediate and real for those we serve.

Like unread books, the people who come to us for care are waiting to be asked for their knowledge and guidance. We need to have the humility to invite them and courage to overcome mistrust and check our professional pedantry at the door. By opening and sustaining that conversation we can become who our patients need us to be.

Charles Saldanha MD

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