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How to Introduce Yourself to Patients During Rotations

It’s your third year of medical school, and you are most excited to start rotations. Finally, Step 1 is behind you, the lectures and slides can take a back seat, and you can finally start seeing some patients. The light at the end of the medical school tunnel is beginning to materialize. 

You walk into your first patient’s room. “Hi, Mr. Ogden. I’m a medical student…the medical student…who got assigned…well my name’s John…Dr. John…but I’m not a doctor yet I’m still a student, a medical student…a medical student doctor…caring for you, and some other…well no other’s yet, it’s my first day…” 

The Wernicke’s word salad spills out of your mouth like CSF from a smooth lumbar puncture. You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything. While there is value in a natural delivery with a spontaneous conversational tone, it’s a good idea to have a tight, canned introduction in your patient encounters.

Introducing Yourself to Patients During Rotations: The Anatomy of a Strong Introduction

Pick an introduction, and go with it.

There are a couple different accepted ways to introduce yourself to patients during rotations. A commonly used one is as follows:

“Hello, Ms. Stevens? I’m student doctor Sri Patel.” And then explain why you are there. “I’d like to perform a medical history and physical, would that be all right?”

This is a perfectly acceptable way to open, and shows that you are a doctor in training. 

However, I always found the whole “student doctor [your name]” to be a bit of a mouthful. Plus, it’s a strange identity to claim, and we don’t hear the term outside of patient introductions and Dean’s speeches. Has your proud aunt ever asked you, “How’s everything as a student doctor?” When a stranger asks what you do, do you ever tell them, “Oh, I’m a student doctor.” It’s just not a common part of our vernacular. What other options exist? 

My own personal preference:

“Hello, [patient name]? My name’s [full name], and I’m the medical student who will be taking care of you. I’d like to perform…”

So, in the same context as our previous example, you would say:

“Hello, Ms. Stevens? My name’s Sri Patel, and I’m the medical student who will be taking care of you. I’d like to perform…”

This gives your name and clearly identifies your role as a medical student. This is what you tell people in the world at large, too, so there’s a nice congruence, and it doesn’t feel quite as contrived.

Use your last name.

By giving your full name, you might generate a little more respect from the cynical or unsure patient. Sri Patel sounds like he knows more about medicine and patient care than regular ole Sri. 

Don’t misrepresent yourself.

The worst thing you can do is overstate your level of training. Do not introduce yourself as “Dr. So-and-so,” or a resident (unless, of course, you are one). To do so is unethical, and not fair to your patients. There are urban legends of medical students doing this, overstepping their medical knowledge and misinforming patients. This led to nosediving their career before it even started.

Try some introductions, and see what you like.

You’ll have plenty of patient encounters, and OSCEs, in which you get to see how different introductions roll off the tongue. Decide what feels and sounds most natural, and go with it. 

Keep it “casual” for future encounters.

You don’t need to use this long-form introduction when you are following the same patient over the course of days. They will probably remember you, so a simple, “Hey Julia, it’s me, Sri Patel, the medical student from yesterday.” 

Fake it till you make it.

It can be hard to come across as confident early on in your rotations. Combine this with the fact that some patients do not want to talk to, be seen by, or be examined by medical students, and the whole prospect becomes daunting. 

Confidence and skill will come in time. Until it arrives, do your best to keep an open ear, maintain good eye contact and posture, and speak forthrightly and confidently. It all starts with your introduction and the first impression that results from it. Keep practicing, and the desired results will follow.

Further Reading