“Oh my God. Oh my God. OH MY GOD! AHHHHHHHHHH!” screamed a patient as a Physician Assistant guided a cortisone steroid injection into her right hip joint. As the cortisone entered her hip joint, the screams progressively got louder, and she clenched her fists. My ears were ringing from the high-pitched yelps. The syringe is gently pulled out of the hip socket, and as the wound is covered by a Band-Aid, the patient unclenched her fists. I was shadowing an Orthopedic Physician Assistant, Scot Rheinecker, at a clinic near my college. He just performed a hip injection on a patient with severe arthritis and happens to have a fear of needles. He maintained a calm demeanor through the older woman’s yells, and then stayed in the room with her for nearly ten minutes as the injection took effect. We talked about her grandchildren, which brought a smile to her face, as she explained that they were in college too. When she was ready, we helped her sit up. As she sat up, she said “You know, this was one of the worst treatments I’ve ever received in my life, but one of the best visits I’ve ever had.”

That experience stays with me to this day because of the level of compassion and individual attention that the patient received. I have shadowed other healthcare providers who are more focused on seeing as many patients as possible, which I believe is a common issue many face in the healthcare profession. There is sometimes a conflict between providing individualized care and seeing as many patients as one can. After we left the patient’s room, Scot explained to me that different people have different tolerances for pain and preconceived fears about certain treatments. He said that we must do our best to treat each patient to the best of our ability. This experience made me realize that I wanted to be as compassionate as I could be when taking care of patients, in other words, it is just as important to treat the patient as it is to treat the disease.

I tried to implement what I learned from this shadowing experience into my work as a volunteer EMT with the town of Davidson. One of my most memorable EMT calls required me to convey compassion, understanding and individual care. We were dispatched to the college for an intoxicated individual. Most people groan and complain when dealing with “drunk calls,” especially when they involve underage college students who have gotten carried away with partying. Oftentimes, the patients are not compliant and can be difficult to handle. When we arrived at the patient’s room, we found her lying under her bed having a panic attack. She had drunk some alcohol for the first time, did not expect to feel the way she did, and was convinced that she had been drugged. My first move was to calm the patient down. To compound her physical discomfort, the individual seemed scared, continually repeating that she was sorry and did not want to get in trouble. In that moment, I understood how she felt. This student was underage and into their first semester at Davidson College. She had to work extremely hard to get into Davidson and the thought of ruining her entire future on account of a quick poor decision is overwhelming. The line between physical and emotional was blurred in that moment. We began to treat her for intoxication and a panic attack. However, the only way to properly treat her was to care for both her physical and mental states. While I reassured the patient that she would be okay and was in good hands, I was able to coax her out from under her bed and begin to take her vital signs. As I put the pulse oximeter on her pointer finger and was explaining that she was not the first person to ever be in this situation, I saw her heart rate slow. After sitting with her for a while, she was able to sober up and then talk with campus police officers. A few days later, I inevitably walked past her on campus, and while at first her face looked a little surprised to see me, it then transition to embarrassment, but finally, a quick warm smile – almost like an unwritten thank you for taking care of her.

Providing this level of patient care is what motivates me to become a Physician Assistant. I pride myself as someone who takes the time to listen and comfort people in day to day life. From listening to my friends’ rant about difficult courses, to providing advice to my teammates when they were not playing well at the club tennis tournaments we attend, I try to implement compassion into every aspect of my life. This is a skill that I will always be improving throughout my lifetime, but I am already able to reap the benefits of this practice. I have been able to form deeper, trusting relationships with those I interact with and I believe that this is vital for patient provider relationships. Trust and compassion lay the foundation for all relationships. My shadowing and EMT experiences have taught me that I will be treating a person – not a disease, disorder, or ailment.

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