One of the things that was drummed into me again and again at medical school was the importance of introducing myself to my patients. In every single undergraduate clinical exam and every single postgraduate exam I have every sat, there have been marks allocated for introducing myself to the patient at the start of the interaction.
Personally, I used to think that being told this again and again and again was really tedious. After all, it’s just good manners isn’t it? I always introduce myself when I meet a new person and patients are no exception.
“Mr Smith? Good morning, my name is Michael. I’m one of the anaesthetists, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Mr Smith? Good morning, my name is Dr Anderson. I’m one of the anaesthetists, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
When I first started my anaesthetic training just over a year ago, that was how I’d introduce myself to my patients.
When I first started my anaesthetic training just over a year ago, I’d frequently get blank, uncomprehending looks from the person that I was talking to. Sometimes, people would try to be polite, but it soon became obvious that they had no idea who I was or what I was planning to do to them. You see, it became very obvious, very quickly that, generally, people have very little idea what anaesthetists do, so introducing myself as an anaesthetist didn’t shed much light.
Since starting my anaesthetic training, I’ve had some cracking comments about my job – often from people who (I thought) really should know better.
“Oh, I didn’t know you had to be a doctor to be an anaesthetist!” – from one of FashionGirl’s friends
“If you’re an anaesthetist, all you do is give an injection – and that’s it. Well, that’s what happened when I had my operation. Why do you have to train for seven years to learn how to do that?” – from my own mother
“Once the patient is asleep, you guys don’t do anything do you?” – from a surgical FY1 doctor
“But what do you DO?! I don’t understand what you do. NOBODY understands what you do.” – from my former housemate who is a cardiology registrar (he was v drunk at the time).
“So, are you a doctor then?” – from a patient just after a ten-minute discussion about epidurals, invasive lines and HDU after care.
…and it goes on and on and on.
Over the year or so I’ve been doing the job, I’ve noticed that my simple introduction to the patient is starting to sound more like a job description. These days, I’ll say something like:
“Mr Smith? Good morning, my name is Dr Anderson. I’ll be the anaesthetic doctor for your operation later on today. It’s my job to give you your anaesthetic and to look after you while the surgeon is operating. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
It’s a bit wordy, but it seems to set the tone a bit better and I seem to get a few fewer blank looks.