There you are, present and as ready as you will ever be for this year’s round of “I just need to survive my annual well woman exam,” and as you shiver in the thin gown and drape on the end of the examination table, a nurse comes in and says, “I forgot to mention that the doctor has a medical student with her today. Is that okay?” So there you are. Stuck. You have to give her an answer. In the few seconds before you do, you think to yourself that the last thing you want is for anyone else to see you bare all and become privy to your most private of medical issues. On the other hand, it seems important that the medical students be able to learn from the doctor you love. You decide to allow the student to come in, and at the end of the visit, you are so glad you did. You feel like you learned more about yourself and your health this year than ever before. Why? Because the learner made the doctor a better teacher—not just for the student, but for you as well.
While this isn’t always the case, I have had many patients tell me that their healthcare experiences in OB/Gyn have been radically improved by the presence of a trainee, be it a medical student, resident, or fellow. For those of us who have taken on the awesome responsibility of training the next generation of physicians, we know that participation by our patients is key. While I love taking care of my patients and providing direct patient care, when I do so with a learner by my side, I am amplifying the effect and ensuring that women who are not my patients will receive high quality, exceptional health care in the future.
So who are these learners? Medical students are individuals who are still in the process of receiving their MD degree and are not doctors. In general, medical students complete approximately two years of classroom work before venturing out into the clinical setting. Residents, on the other hand, have completed medical school and are full-fledged physicians. At this point, they have entered into further training in the specialty of their choice; in the case of OB/Gyn, specialty training is 4 years. At the completion of residency, some physicians will opt to further their training in fellowship, an even more narrow specialization in their field.
Medicine remains, for all intents and purposes, largely an apprentice model, along with all of the good and bad that comes with it. The ability for a trainee to work one-on-one with a practicing physician and to learn everything that individual has to teach is time-consuming and exhausting for the teaching physician. We do it because we believe that educating the next generation is as important as the clinical work we do in providing care to you. But we can’t do it without you. You are the most important piece of the equation. Without you, we are just reciting information they could read in any textbook. It is you who makes the medicine come alive—you give it a face, give it meaning, make it real.
And we all thank you.
Dr. Susan Raine is Program Director and Vice Chair of Education at the Baylor College of Medicine Obstetrics & Gynecology