A Professional Patient

For a lovely bit of fiction that rings as true as crystal, head over to the Atlantic magazine. A short story by Julie Shumaker, titled Patient, Female explores the world of professional patients, the doctors in training who depend on them (and can intentionally or unintentionally offend them) and the tangled family ties that medicine/healthcare can weave. Well worth the ten minutes it will take you to read it. In my medical training we did, indeed, have female professional patients (and male ones, for the rectal exam – odd, now, to think how the male genitalia wasn’t included…). There were four of us to a patient, and one person in our group asked our female patient why she did it. She told us she’d had a really bad experience with a pelvic exam, and thought this was one way to contribute – to help ensure future women didn’t have a similarly bad experience. Our professional female patient was very good – gave great feedback, was very clear and sharp at times. The sense was that you were learning from someone who knew what she was doing, cared about the outcome, and felt comfortable being in charge – she definitely ranked high as one of my best medical school instructors, even for so short a lesson. The male professional patient was another type altogether – thin, shaky, and now, in retrospect I know he was probably withdrawing. He was more like “can we just get this over with?” There was minimal-to-no learning, no coaching, no feedback, just a lingering sense of violation hanging in the air afterward.

So should there be professional patients?  If not, who’s going to be “the first”? Share your own experiences (anonymously only please) in the comments section below.

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