GUEST POST: Remembering Patients: A Walk Down Memory Lane of Learning
Monday, April 14, 2014
Dr. Jessica Lazerov (pictured here) writes:
As medical professionals, we must learn and retain an unthinkable amount of information. Especially during the first 2 years of medical school, this truly is a task not to be taken lightly. Traditionally (that’s code for “back when I was a student”) there has often been minimal to no context to all of the information we are required to know, and it is a grueling experience for most of us. I still have flashbacks of studying the biochemical intricacies of the kidney, and don’t even get me started about the vast and confusing spinal column pathways…
But most of my learning was done with an eager mind and a real curiosity about the epic nature of the human body. Though sometimes I wonder if the experience I remember is somewhat different from what happened in actuality, much like mothers tend to forget the unforgiving details of childbirth.
Be that as it may, I managed to make it through the 3 steps of the medical board exams and my initial Pediatrics certification process smoothly. Now 10 years older, I am studying for my recertification (aka “maintenance of certification”) exam in Pediatrics and I am faced with the daunting task of relearning many things that I have not thought about for almost 10 years. Yes, I have a decade of real-world experience under my belt, which counts for quite a bit in my day to day life as a general pediatrician, but I have learned a few basic lessons that will trump all other information when it comes to caring for patients:
(1) Know what you know
(2) Know what you don’t know
(3) When you don’t know, know where to find it…quickly
Now sometimes you really do need to remember the details. A technique that has helped me remember the obscure, rare zebras in addition to the “not so rare” conditions is by remembering details about specific patients I have cared for. I still know the name of the 8 year old boy I got to know in residency with Wiscott-Aldrich Syndrome. Picturing his face reminds me of many seemingly random facts about his illness and gives that information some context. I remember that teenage girl with Henoch-Schonlein Purpura that I admitted as a 4th year medical student who was disappointed that she had to miss her prom, but what helps me recognize it again is that I also remember exactly how her illness presented.
So my message for those going through training is to make sure that you get to know your patients and commit them to memory. Make sure that you remember what is typical and atypical about how your patients presented, what tests you ordered and why, and how you treated them. You may very well see an obscure question on one of your board exams that was intended to throw you for a loop and a memory of a specific patient will help you. But most importantly, you may see a patient in the ER, in the hospital, or in your clinic once you are an attending that will benefit from your memories and the connection you made to patients as you were learning. This type of learning continues throughout your career and really does bring a softer, human side to this amazing journey known as “The Art of Medicine”.
ABOUT OUR GUEST POST CONTRIBUTOR: Jessica Lazerov received her MD from the University of Maryland where she also completed her Pediatrics Residency. She is now an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The George Washington School of Medicine and works in the Southeast DC Children’s Health Centers. She is interested in health care disparities and working with underserved populations in addition to understanding and treating childhood and adolescent obesity. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and two “spirited” children. Read another post by Dr. Lazerov.
About the Expert
Jessica Lazerov, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The George Washington School of Medicine and works in the Southeast DC Children’s Health Centers. She is interested in health care disparities and working with underserved populations in addition to understanding and treating childhood and adolescent obesity.