When I heard that first-year medical student Mariposa Garth-Pelly was a nurse, I had to meet her. I have extensive experience, sadly, with the critical role that nurses play on a health-care team, particularly during end-of-life care. There can be a communication and care gap between the physician and the patients’ families, and in my experience, nurses were often expert at bridging that gap. To have a nurse in medical school, I thought, could be a great learning experience for everyone.
Garth-Pelly says she had not seen herself in that way. “I didn’t come to medical school to be an advocate or spokesperson for nurses, but I am surprised at how little discussion there is about nurses and other health-care professionals,” she told me. “I see that a big part of learning to be a doctor is learning how to work within that team, and I have been lucky enough to see some amazing physicians who empower all members of the team as they lead. That approach ultimately results in the best care for the patient.”
A graduate of Brown University, Garth-Pelly decided to go to nursing school after working in West Africa for a public health organization. “I wanted to gain practical, clinical skills that could directly benefit the people I was trying to help,” she explained. After two years as a nurse, most recently at the Palo Alto Veteran’s Administration hospital, Garth-Pelly realized she wanted to play a larger role in the “trajectory of care” of patients by becoming a physician. “It was a tough decision, because medical school is a huge commitment, but I am happy I made the decision to come to Stanford," she said.
Although she came to medical school with a particular interest in end-of-life care, Garth-Pelly realizes she may have the opportunity, and challenge, of bringing attention to an issue that can be problematic in patient care. “Even the Joint Commission, which regulates compliance issues for hospitals, recognizes that there needs to be improved communication among caregivers,” she said. “It seems the full scope of what nurses do is not always fully appreciated, or even realized, by many doctors. I think it would be beneficial to devote even a day in medical school to what the professionals who are not wearing the white coats do."
Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of the Arts, Humanities and Medicine Program within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.
Previously: “This reinforced why I went into nursing”: The story of two nurses who resuscitated plane passenger and Nursing: The need to make a difference
Photo, of Garth-Pelly and her father, by Sam Kim. (Charles Garth drove his motorcycle for six hours to make to his daughter’s white coat and stethoscope ceremony on time.)