Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's the People, Not the Place

If I were to say it's harvest time, you might glance at the calender and wonder if I didn't need some of the chemical dependency treatment I've been trying lately to provide, except for one thing. My hayfield is getting its first buzz-cut of the year. In a couple of months, we'll get one more "cutting," before the growing season settles in for a long winter's nap. All of this means the sound of a tractor engine is added to the bird songs coming in my study window, blending with the rhythmic inhalation-exhalation cycle of sleeping dogs. These are the sounds of Maine mid-summer mornings I love best.

They are especially nice when heralding the onset of a three day weekend. I know, you thought I couldn't wait to get to the psychiatric unit each morning, what gives? Well, Saturday morning reverie like this feels like pushing yourself back from the table after a holiday meal with family and close friends, a meal with all the trimmings that satisfies like no other. The past four weeks I've tucked in with a huge napkin draped over my shirt and my plate has overflowed.

If I were called in, I'd be glad to go, but that's not going to happen. Students don't have "call" on this rotation, so I'm spared the necessity of being available, though like I say, I wouldn't mind. One of the docs has the duty this weekend and he'll cover the adult, child-adolescent, and chemical dependency units. Basically, he needs to touch base with every patient once in the course of 72 hours and take care of emergencies and new admissions. But I remember my first night on-call during pediatrics and this is his first weekend in the same role, only with more responsibility, and it's easy to commiserate. Besides that, he's a really nice guy whom I've enjoyed getting to know.

That holds true for everyone I've worked with thus far. I realize I've said this before, but it's hard to say too often. I'm truly grateful for the generosity these people have demonstrated, how they've taken me in as a quasi-staff member, overlooking my occasional and predictable mistakes, and accepted my efforts to do well with appreciation. For all the reasons I'm not looking forward to the end of this rotation, the people I've worked with are at the top of my list.

I think the reason for this comes about from a paid employment history that includes two hospitals. I've been a member of a treatment team where people are counting on me to do my job. Medical students are permitted certain tasks but none of them are essential in the sense that, in your absence, there is no one else available to do them. On this rotation, however, the entire staff, from the unit secretaries to the physicians, have not only treated me like someone they enjoy having around, they've taken my contributions seriously. They make me wish this hospital had a psychiatric residency program.

One of them, a social worker, does something no one else has ever done -- he insists on calling me "Doctor." Not "Student Doctor," but Doctor in the same way, with the same tone of voice he uses when speaking with the psychiatrists. I told him one evening, as he was preparing to leave and I was still at the computer, writing progress notes, that getting into medical school had been a struggle and staying in was a full-time job. Even though I had no legal right to the title, it meant a great deal to hear him use it. He ducked his head, smiled, and said I deserved it. That blew me away.

I'm not sure I deserve anything, really, but working with folks like him makes me realize, when it comes to being happy, more than anything else, it's the people, not the place.

(Creative Commons image of the Joint Medical Group by Defense Images via Flickr)
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