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“Everyone deserves a quality life” — An undergrad’s day in the emergency department

A Stanford undergrad reflects on his experience shadowing an emergency medicine physician. He found it uplifting, and it reaffirmed his desire to become a doctor.

Before I spent a day shadowing a physician recently, I saw emergency medicine as a romantic field, doctors rushing from room to room, saving the lives of patient after patient. At least that is what I hoped. Then came an awareness of how much seemed driven by numbers, science, and technology. I had begun to believe that medicine was all about filling in charts and searching through books to determine the pathophysiology of a disease.

Instead, I found that in the emergency room, it wasn’t a mad dash to save lives and maximize patients seen. Doctors’ decisions, though influenced by biometrics, were also qualitatively driven. The doctors took time to listen to the patient tell their story, at times reciting horrors. They asked questions more often than running tests or checking vitals.

The doctors were more than scientists in that moment; they were human. They didn’t simply care about the patient’s symptoms. They cared for the patient in every sense, whether that involved providing pain relief or social workers or a shoulder to cry on.

Although each doctor has a tremendous reservoir of knowledge, it seemed that often the care provided was relatively simple. They were there to truly listen to the patient. As I watched doctors taking time with each patient, even in an emergency setting, I began to realize the impact this has upon patient care and their trust with their care team.

Before shadowing, I was worried that doctors were either walking encyclopedias or a horde of outdated medical books in their office. I feared medicine was stuck in its century-old traditions with little regard for moving forward.

I found that instead of dusty books or knowledge, medical teams function using teamwork. Medicine no longer exists in silos where doctors act independent of one another. Even in the hectic emergency department, I watched residents and practitioners talk over cases, learning from each other and tossing around ideas. When things were unclear, they called for a consult. They truly embraced collaboration and genuinely wanted to learn from one another.

I began to feel a sense of relief that, although I want to learn as much as I can, there will be the support of a whole team and a community to back me up in the future.

Before shadowing, I began to view electronic medical records as a time-suck where doctors were required to mindlessly input information to reduce legal liability. I always assumed it had little to do with health care. Now I realize I was wrong.

Doctors did spend a lot of their time filling in these charts, however, it was never in front of the patient, and it was never mindlessly done. Doctors pored over these charts, noting any small remarks, any random details that might be important. As the team would input new notes with each visit, they carefully synthesized their findings. These notes weren’t just for liability; they were meant to help doctors provide higher quality care.

Before shadowing, I thought I knew how the medical industry functioned. But then I saw what it was truly like for those on the front lines. The workflow was nonstop and fatiguing (I got tired and all I did was shadow). There are rough cases, and less-than-glamorous tasks

But at the end of the day, it seemed to me that the work brought about a sense of happiness for the doctors. I was relieved to find that even after years of work, these professionals didn't seem cynical.

Ultimately, I realized that doctors share a common motivation: everyone deserves a quality life. The doctors I shadowed genuinely embraced this motto and used it to fuel their daily efforts.

I aim to one day join these ranks.

Ribhav Gupta is a junior at Stanford. He hopes to pursue a career in medicine.

Photo by paulbr75

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