Connecting with patients is the best part of practicing medicine, if you ask Erinn Coe, a fourth-year student in the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine. While doing clerkships in her third year, she realized just how much it meant to her.
Working in a plastic surgery clinic, Coe recalls, her favorite thing was seeing the patients for their post-op visit. “They would come back to the clinic and say, ‘I’m so happy,’ or ‘I feel so much better because of what you did.’”
Seeing compassion in progress
An experience with the clerkship director for her internal medicine rotation made an indelible impression: “He’s an amazing physician and the relationship he had with his patients — they adored him. “I think when you’re a patient it’s very easy to feel vulnerable and intimidated by physicians and he’s not like that. He’s very personable and approachable,” says Coe, who has a disarming warmth of her own.
Coe had planned to pursue a residency in surgery; all of her fourth-year rotation choices were based on that goal, and so were her choices of residency programs. But when she realized that being a surgeon could mean many more hours in operating rooms than with patients, Coe decided to make a course correction. With the help of a student advisor, she regrouped for a Plan B that will put her on track for a medical specialty rather than a surgical one.
Reflecting to better understand
Learning more about all the specialties — and which one suits you best — isn’t all that Coe learned in her third year of medical school. She also discovered what it’s like for a family member when their loved one needs medical care.
During Coe’s internal medicine rotation in her hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, her grandfather fell ill and was admitted to the hospital where she was working. The student noticed that sometimes there were differences in the way that physicians on the team would speak about her grandfather, depending on whether they knew the two of them were related.
“It sounds clichéd to say you should treat a patient like they’re your family member. Emotionally, obviously you can’t do that with every single patient. But in that scenario, when my patient literally was my grandpa, I saw that it’s one thing for a physician to say something like, “It’s time to withdraw care,” and another for the family to hear that advice,” says Coe.
“The experience gave me a chance to see things from both perspectives.”