I try to answer this question every morning when I wake up. Most times, I can’t say with certainty that I am. Obviously, I am comfortable with my level of medical knowledge. I try to keep up to date, which sincerely speaking, is not too much effort, seeing as I graduated from medical school just two years ago. I am also relatively confident in my skills- it has never really been difficult to pick up new things, if I observe it done a couple of times, chances are I already can do it. My internship is providing an avenue to add to my rapidly growing repertoire daily, so it really isn’t about skill.
While these are definitely important, there is that z-factor that makes patients gravitate towards one doctor and not the next. There is that thing that makes a difference- it is difficult to place though, that makes the patient choose you over and over again to be their care provider.
Tonight, I am on call, which means I am in the hospital from this evening till morning and will attend to whatever comes up between now and then, before continuing with my normal work schedule tomorrow. A number of things have happened in this call that made me think- wow! I might actually be a good doctor.
First, conflict. I needed some patients charts, and I asked the senior nurse on duty, who was obviously overwhelmed and in the middle of her report, so I turned to the junior nurse, who proceeded to give me a proper telling off. A good doctor will not fan the flames of an argument in public in the presence of patients. It wasn’t really difficult to pass this test- I am a relatively non-confrontational person and I don’t make a habit of keeping grudges. I didn’t know that people were keeping score. Later, when I needed to explain some new instructions for another patient, she told me to carry it out myself. I was miffed, because she obviously didn’t understand what I was saying- what needed to be done was a nurses’ procedure and I still had many patients to attend to yet. I took it in stride and moved on. I was rather surprised when while, she was being chided by another senior nurse, reference was made to her poor attitude towards me and how I let things go without incident. She apparently had a long history of insubordination, which I was unaware of.
Next, there’s a ward of the state in one of our wards. He is truly a troublesome patient, but still I couldn’t see beyond his need for help. Ward gossip flying around says he is in the system for the murder of a close relative. Other patients are reluctant to engage with him and the nurses will do no further than their explicit duty to him, because of his tendency to be abusive to them. Tonight on two separate occasions, he asked for assistance to eat. I was really very busy and told him that I’d come back to him when I was done. I think he was really surprised to see me come back. I would have been just another figure in the long line of people who had failed him. The Nigerian Prisons is a broken system- Nelson Mandela said to judge a country by the state of her prisons. We are bottom of the ladder in that regard. He had repeatedly called out to the warden who snubbed him. All other patients had relatives visiting and caring for them, he had none.
Around midnight, he called again for water. He felt that the much he had would not be enough for him. I went to ask for water from others on his behalf. When I brought him the water, I was half-expecting him to be aggressive as was customary, or to berate me as part of the system that kept failing him, but he took me by surprise. I didn’t get a thank you, that was expected, but I didn’t expect what I got- He looked at me square in the eyes and said in my dialect -“iwu ezigbo mmadu”. It means -” you are a good person”. I muttered a quick thank you and left, too stunned for further words.
Again, I went to another ward to return the sphygmomanometer I had borrowed from them to examine an unconscious patient brought in from Accident & Emergency. The nurses there were surprised that I was still awake and attending to patients- this was around 2 am. I had literally been on my feet since I started. They asked me to help them reestablish i/v access for one patient that needed fluids. When we got to the patient’s bedside, it was obvious that this would be a tricky one. However, I took my time to find an appropriate vein. When it seemed I was taking too long, I explained to the nurse that I preferred to take my time to find the vein and plan my approach so that I would prick the patient only once, she nodded. When I decided on the vein, I unboxed the cannula and inserted it in one swoop. She was doubly impressed. I could literally see that she respected me a lot more now than she did a few minutes ago. When she went back to the nursing station, she couldn’t stop talking about it to her colleague.
Why am I writing tonight? It is days like this, (nights in this case) that boost my confidence and help me answer “Yes” when I ask myself the overarching question “am I a good doctor?”. It is nights like this that keep me from losing it on some other nights when everything seems to be going south.
I like this feeling – the feeling that I am making a difference in people’s lives, the feeling that I have been of some help to another person. It reminds me of why I didn’t gag or puke out my guts, when I thought of this as my career.