I've been back home for the summer, after my freshman year at Duke. As a prospective pre-medicine student, I wanted to get some more immersion into the field of medicine. My personal physician, Dr. Nguyen, had told me during an earlier checkup, that I would be able to have the opportunity to shadow him if I wanted to in the future - and now I felt the time had come! I called the office, and I was surprised by how amiable and friendly the office manager (Christy) was in scheduling my appointment. It was arranged that I would follow around Dr. Nguyen on his patient's appointments on Wednesdays, from 8:00 am in the morning to 3:30 pm, when I would have to leave to pickup my sister from school. This would continue for 4 Wednesdays, so a total of 30 hours. There weren't any stressing rules - just come on time, wearing slacks and a tie. I was definitely excited - I've never had the opportunity to shadow a doctor in the United States! Moreover, I was in particular, excited to shadow Dr. Nguyen, because I got to experience being his patient, as well as my father, and both of us really like him. It would be cool to see the behind the scenes to what exactly an internal medicine doctor does for his patients.
Due to traffic, I had arrived just barely by 8:00 am, despite leaving my home about 20 minutes earlier than I ordinarily would have for the distance (the GPS said it would take only 20 minutes to
arrive - it took me 40!). As I arrived in the office, I was greeted by the receptionist, who then took me out to the back, where I was told to wait for Dr. Nguyen to come. I was surprised, as he was apparently already with his first patient!
Soon afterwards, I saw Dr. Nguyen come out of the patient's room, and I met with him. He gave me a basic overview of the patients he was going to see for that day - there were a bit over 20 he was going to see that day. The computer sorted each of the patients by appointment time, and had detailed info on the patients' histories, from their first to most recent appointments. I was surprised by the array of conditions that patients had- ranging from diabetes, to obesity, to arthritis, to high blood pressure. I even met a patient suffering from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) - this was the one which social media did the "ice bucket" challenge for to raise awareness - and now for the first time, I met a patient with the condition!
I took a notebook with me and noted down observations from every patient I encountered. As I was following Dr. Nguyen from patient to patient, I was surprised on a number of things I observed. Initially, I was worried that patients would perhaps object to me being in the room with Dr. Nguyen (and I'd totally understand!). However, the vast majority of patients seemed to have deep trust in Dr. Nguyen. As he would tell them "This is Thabit - he is a student at Duke studying pre medicine, and today he is shadowing me to get a first hand look at how I work with patients" - or something along the lines of that - most of the patients agreed to me being in the room.
As I was in the rooms, the patients seemed to be immediately comfortable with Dr. Nguyen - and I saw why. Dr. Nguyen, despite having over 2,000 unique patients per year in his clinic, he takes the time to get to actually KNOW the patient, as in, the patient's life. Many of us might view our doctors as people who spit out prescriptions, after telling them the symptoms we are being affected by - thus effectively making the relationship between the doctor and patient somewhat of a stale, perfunctory relationship. However, as I saw Dr. Nguyen greet each of his patients, he seemed to know something about each one, and took a genuine interest in following up on various events affecting his patient's lives. For example, I recalled he asked a parent about how her son was doing, and she delighted talked of her son's success in some athletic event, to which Dr. Nguyen seemed equally as happy, and then proceeded to talk about her other family members. To him, his patients were friends, who simply were ill, not just some anonymous patient with a disease.
Just after a few patient visits, I realized just how much time had flown by - it seemed while inside the room, time would move extremely fast, because by the time we went to the next patient, he/she would already be waiting in the next room for us. I realized one thing while doing this - unless you love your job as a doctor, you will be simply stressed. There is definitely a lot going on - patients will come in one after the other. There's pretty much no time to relax or take a break asides from lunch time. However, by Dr. Nguyen taking the extra time to get to know his patients, and while also maintaining quite friendly relations with all of his employees, seemed to thoroughly enjoy his job.
Soon it was time to pick up my sister from school - I had wanted to stay until the end (5:00 is when the clinic closed), as I had learned so much, and had enjoyed my time following around Dr. Nguyen. There wasn't a moment in which I was "bored" - because every patient was different. And , the patients weren't simply just walking disease cases - they all had a story, as Dr. Nguyen told me - a story that is waiting to be revealed, if you simply ask and take the time to get to know them. As I left the clinic, I was already looking forward to shadowing Dr. Nguyen next Wednesday (June 3rd!)