It seems to me that physicians, more than most other professionals, carry egos the size of watermelons on their shoulders. In a sense, this is the type selected for by the career itself — confident, successful, achievement-driven people are the ones admitted to medical schools. As a group, we are predisposed to pride from the start.
Then we struggle fervently through training, each day acquiring another fragment of the physician’s fabled knowledge. The frenzy continues for several years until a day comes when we are considered capable of functioning independently, and this is a great triumph.
But when we finally arrive at our objective, the nature of our pride has evolved. We have now fulfilled the most monumental achievement of our lives, and we’ve obtained knowledge so powerful that many people will trust us with their lives.
So maybe our arrogance is justified. Maybe we’re entitled to some arrogance. Don’t you think?
At graduations across the country, students are walking across the stage, receiving their diplomas and beginning the next chapter of their lives. These graduates are equipped with a wealth of new tools. However, nearly all are forced to leave behind one of the most important: their library card.
Students’ library cards are a passport to the specialized knowledge found in academic journal articles — covering medicine and math, computer science and chemistry, and many other fields. These articles contain the cutting edge of our understanding and capture the genius of what has come before. In no uncertain terms, access to journals provides critical knowledge and an up-to-date education for tomorrow’s doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs.
But should that access cease at graduation?
With knowledge comes responsibility, and while physicians have insight into the inner workings of the human body and how it responds to disease (more than just a neat party trick), they’re also charged with using that information to make sure they don’t miss the cardinal signs of problems that can lead to the rapid deterioration of a patient.
In our classes we learn about a number of problems that are slow to progress - important to catch but not immediately threatening to life or limb. But as we go through our training, once in awhile we’ll learn about the classic presentation for a problem which, if missed, will result in the patient dying or being seriously disabled within a relatively short period of time, and the physician being in serious trouble if they had the opportunity to catch the problem early but didn’t.
Whenever these come up I try and make a mental note of them, mostly because I don’t want my patients to suffer because of a preventable error on my part.
I’ve racked my brain for what appear to be some of the common ones, most of which I had never heard of before starting medical school. Coming in, most of us already knew that chest pain that radiates down the left arm and up to the chin could be a myocardial infarction (medical speak for heart attack), which usually comes up in first aid classes. On the other hand, I never realized that green vomit could be the sign of something quite ominous, or that what might seem like a minor bump on the head needs swift medical attention.