An Open Letter to Med Students

To Students Pursuing Medicine (be it nursing, doctoring or otherwise),

I think the choice to go into this field is great- you must really have dedication and care for others. That's wonderful, and I say that very lovingly, not sarcastically. I'm even a little envious of you because I fancied the idea of becoming a medical professional when I was younger and still have a medical sweet tooth- I love the reality shows set in hospitals. I know you can do it, and you will be great in what you pursue. But, as a professional patient, I ask for you to learn some things and try others.

I want you to try and put yourself in your patient's shoes. Think of how you would react in certain situations- and no, you would probably not be as calm as you imagine. I know it's easier to separate yourself from your patients, but do this at least to understand the way your patient reacts to your words. There are tears, held back sorrow and anger, frustration, guilt, confusion and feeling lost, and you should not make your patient worse by not understanding that some things are hard to take, even things that wouldn't seem it. Know that your patient with a chronic illness, especially those newly diagnosed, is going to mourn their health and is going to go through the stages of grief. It's perfectly normal, do not make it worse by telling them it's not a big deal or it could be worse. They know that. They can't help being upset that their life has changed.

Please educate yourself on autoimmune diseases. Not any particular one, but generally. Learn how they work; you'd be surprised how many times I've ever explained how my disease worked to doctors and nurses. Autoimmune diseases go undiagnosed for years and the results are catastrophic in some cases. Please believe your patients symptoms and don't dismiss them: Fight for them! Surprisingly, patients  need you! Don't hate the patient that brings up a disease that fits their symptoms. I promise you, they are probably not a hypochondriac, they are probably just tired of their symptoms and of those symptoms going neglected. It's hard to be sick when no one believes you. Fight for your patient, you may be the one who can give her back a normal life when she's suffering in silence.

I highly recommend you become involved in a patient advocacy group. Your patients will love it, and will have a higher respect for you. They will know that you 'get it.' You will gain insight and information you would never imagine: You may learn ways of better helping your patient. You will learn what your patient really goes through: That they're a normal person who is constantly battling their disease and trying to live their life. You will find priceless things that medical journals will never tell you.

Thank you for deciding to pursue medicine- we need caring people like you in this field. It's going to be hard but worth it. You don't have to take my advice if you don't want to, but I want you to know that many chronic illness patients feel neglected, abused and lied to by the doctors and nurses who work with them due to the invisible but degrading nature of their illness. If you take anything from this, please take that you need to care for your patients- don't let them suffer. Please fight for them.

Best of luck,

The Girl With Arthritis


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