Your New Mantra For The Medical World (And Beyond)

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • One of the joys (and perils) of anesthesia residency is working alongside a different attending nearly every day. The different styles that we are exposed to run the gamut from buttoned up, by-the-book 1950’s TV doctor to the attending who pretends he’s a little buzzed and jokes with the patients, “I would still be a doctor if not for that damn judge.” There are those who tell us, “There are two ways of doing things: my way, and the wrong way.” There are those who smother us in the OR and those who are wildly hands-off. In the end, we take what we like from everyone, avoid that which we despise, and become an amalgam of our favorite mentors.

    One of my attendings said something to me this week that’s been echoing in my head and seems to be improving my life both inside and outside of the hospital. It started with lubricating the endotracheal tube with a lidocaine gel…

    “You know why we do this?” he asked.

    “To prevent a sore throat?”

    “Well yes, that, and also to make Greg [the surgery attending] look better.”

    Though our goals are the same, surgery and anesthesia can make the OR seem like a battleground. And here we were, going out of our way to make the patient appreciate the surgeon more through our (sometimes overlooked) hard work.

    What followed however, was a mini-lecture on how the medical system works, concluding with a mantra by which I believe we should all be living our lives:

    “How can I make your day better? How can I be of service to you?”

    Say it a few times. Let your cortex marinate in the idea. Everything that we do in the hospital, with every person with whom we interact, regardless of our levels of training, should revolve around these principles.

    First and foremost, apply this when you’re working with patients

    If there is anyone out there who needs their day made better, it is your patient. While we, as residents and medical students, often lament that we won’t be home until late at night, it’s essential to remember that we [usually] get to go home at night, while most of our patients remain sick, and will be sleeping in the hospital, some for weeks. While we go to the hospital or clinic under the guise of advancing our knowledge and earning an income, we would do well to remember that we are truly there to be of service to our patients.

    Being sick stinks. There are no two ways about it. As a medical provider (at any level), you have an unparalleled opportunity to make it suck just a little less. You will come to find that the patient won’t remember your brilliant idea at rounds to switch from labetalol to metoprolol. What they will remember is your joke which made them smile, the warm blanket you got for them despite being strapped for time, and the fact that you were able to see past the doctor-patient relationship and treat them as a fellow human being.

    Also apply it…with everyone!

    The beautiful thing about this mindset is that you can apply it in just about any setting both inside and outside of medical school and residency. Everyone you interact with outside the hospital will appreciate your presence more when you are in the mindset of service and betterment. The supermarket checkout person, your mechanic, your neighbor…every human interaction awards you the opportunity to make someone else’s life better, no matter how big or small. Every established relationship that you have has the capacity to improve when you use this mantra. The lives of friends and lovers will improve, and in turn, your own happiness will grow for you having done so.

    And don’t forget to apply it at the hospital

    While at your home away from home – the hospital – there are also countless opportunities to improve the lives of those around you. Think about the floor nurse who has to draw labs on four separate “hard-stick” patients and serve as the front line for their gripes about the hospital’s crappy food and cable. Think about the housekeeping staff who are relegated to daily manual labor with noxious chemicals. And let us not forget the surgical chief resident who is carrying a census of 30 sick patients, coordinating with interns and medical students, and forgoing dinner with his family because of the research paper that needs editing. No matter who it is, no matter how big or small their cog in the machine, everyone can afford some unsolicited sunniness and helping hands. Colleagues in higher positions than us are dependent on us to be their foundation, and we can make their days better. Colleagues in lower positions are in a scarier and more alien place than we are, and will always be in need of our help.

    A parting caveat:

    We cannot operate on the expectation that others will also be in this frame of mind. The real benevolence comes in serving others and making their days better, even when they have no desire or drive to do the same for you. Be wonderful to everyone, and remember why you are here: to make everyone around you feel better.