I remember the moment that my view of medicine changed. I remember watching the patient being rushed to the trauma bay. I remember the cries of the patient’s family when after over half an hour of pushed medications and attempted resuscitation, the physician I was shadowing told the family there was nothing more they could do to save their loved one. Before this day, I had only seen the positive side of medicine—healed injuries, successful surgeries, and wellness visits. This was the first patient death I saw firsthand. It was the first patient I saw get extensive life saving techniques that ultimately were not enough. It was the experience that gave me an all-encompassing view of what the world of medicine, especially emergency medicine, is really like. The physician I shadowed told me that there are so many highs in medicine, but also, there are a lot of lows. He taught me the importance of preparing mentally for those lows and knowing how to comfort, show empathy, and be there for the family in time of need. This experience taught me just how vital empathy and kindness are in medicine, especially when life saving techniques are needed. As a future medical student, I know learning life saving techniques is not simply an algorithm to follow or a step-by-step tutorial. It involves not only learning the skills needed to perform these procedures, but it is also the mental preparation, focus, and empathetic attitude that accompanies the work done. That all comes from experience, reflection, and learning from those around you.
From shadowing, volunteering, and conducting clinical research in my local emergency department, I’ve learned much from those around me about live saving techniques such as CPR, first aid, the FAST method for stroke assessment, and the ABC’s of trauma. Learning about these techniques is what lead me to be fascinated with emergency medicine in the first place. While a person’s physical symptoms are definitely vital to observe, the biggest lesson I learned from conducting research on food insecurity on the population of an inner-city emergency department is how the social determinants of health affect healthcare access, affordability, and overall health outcomes. The lack of access to preventative care is often why many people develop more serious conditions over time, sometimes resulting in the need for critical care. Educating myself on this allowed me to realize that these life saving techniques are tied into various factors I had not even considered before. While I am not in medical school yet and lack the knowledge for performing these techniques, the best I can do now, which I have been striving to improve on, is educating myself on outside factors affecting a person’s health, like when techniques need to be altered based on a patient’s race, gender, sex, etc. I think doing so gives me a better understanding of where a patient comes from, what their life is like, and what their unique needs are, because after all, each patient is different. This helps me feel better prepared for patient interaction situations. The emergency department is really the intersection of between the world of medicine and societal issues. Understanding why this occurs and understanding the patient population is one way to prepare mentally for providing care and when needed, life saving techniques.
Besides continuing to keep myself educated, another way I will strive to be prepared, both physically and mentally for providing emergency care is taking care of my own mental and physical health. Over the past few years, I have learned the important of self-care. I found that once I placed more emphasis on my own mental health, I became more confident and better prepared to excel in my various endeavors. I’ve done this through exercising, reading daily devotionals, self-reflection, and maintaining a strong support system. I believe doing all of this helps me be the best version of myself and ultimately, will help me be the best provider I can be for my future patients. Life in medicine, and especially emergency medicine can be stressful; fast-paced; and both mentally and physically challenging. This is often why burnout is so common in the medical field. Acknowledging this and preparing to combat these challenges is an important step to take. Taking care of yourself means being better able to take care of others. That’s the main concept to remember when preparing to work in healthcare. Learning life saving techniques and developing surgical skills should always be accompanied with mental preparation, holistic education, and empathy.