Blogside Manner: Dinner with a Doctor

Jingaling regularly practices her surgical skills on pomegranates. It’s not covered in the PLME curriculum. But it should be. Until then, she’s have to tell you all about the wonders of the PLME program – an 8 year combined program of literal arts undergraduate education at Brown and medical training at the Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, RI.

What is the doctor-patient relationship? An integral part of the healing process. Something that requires trust and honesty, friendship and kindness…

But how do you develop this relationship when the first time you see your patient, she’s unconscious on the operating table? How do you proceed?

What about if your patient is also a doctor? How does the dynamic change?

What if your patient is 10 years old – how much do you tell him about the process?

These relationships can’t be learned from a textbook, yet interacting with patient and creating a positive environment for the patient and the patient’s family is a vital part of doctoring.

So what do you do?

Just like you would if you were the doctor, you sit down and you listen. In this case, you listen to practicing doctors, ones who have had decades of experience.

Four times an academic year, the Whole Patient Committee of the PLME Senate hosts a dinner for the new PLME freshmen. We invite a doctor from the RI community – sometimes a professor from the medical school, a physician from an affiliated hospital, a specialist who was once a PLME and sat where we sit now – to talk to the incoming class. Every doctor brings a former/current patient of theirs and BOTH of them discuss the doctor-patient relationship. Each presentation is different and unique – different specialty, different disease, and different doctor-patient dynamic.

Earlier this year, we hosted the first one at the Brown Faculty Club, a fancy banquet hall on campus that is often reserved for semi-formal events like these. All 60something freshmen, their deans and Meiklejohn advisors (upper classmen who act as academic ‘big brothers and sisters’ at Brown) dressed to the nines to listen Dr. Petra Klinge (pictured above), a noted neurosurgeon at RI Hospital and an associate professor at the Alpert Medical School.

Dr. Klinge presented her international work on hydrocephalus, a treatable disorder commonly mistaken for Alzheimer’s or dementia. Like former speakers, she discussed how she fell into her specialty – according to her, she had wanted to be a general practitioner and fell into neurosurgery by accident! Regardless of how she got to where she is, her talents as a doctor are undeniable. The patient she invited recalled how she talked to him for an hour in an unscheduled appointment – a friendly face after months of medical miscommunications, wrong diagnoses and endless frustration.

“She gave me my life back,” he said simply. “They say grown men don’t cry.” He shook his head and demonstrated the short, snail-paced, halting walk he was once confined to, a cane in each hand. Abruptly, he ran across the front of the room. Upon his recovery, he stated, “Men do cry.”

Of course, it was a long process. They had set-backs, procedures that didn’t go as planned, the extended hospital stay…but Dr. Klinge kept the conversation open. She never held back bad news, but always followed it with positive reinforcement, a focus on what they could do still, a focus on the future.

Her attentiveness to the freshmen – answering questions to the very last minute of our allotted time, staying afterward for an extra half an hour to talk to the students one-to-one – only emphasized her beliefs about doctor-patient relationship.

These dinners are not only educational – they are great bonding experiences for the PLME class. Deans and Meiks eat dinner with you, giving great advice on future classes, research opportunities, wonderful professors and the occasionally awkward roommate situation. And of course, they’re fantastic ways to meet your classmates. After all, when you’re going to spend 8 years together, you want to get off on the right foot!

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