Early one morning on Trauma rounds I walked into one of the hospital’s freshly remodeled rooms. It was clean and a “newly single” room. Not the kind of single where you’re like “Hey how you doin”, but the kind where there used to be two patients separated by a curtain. Now there is just one, lonely patient staring out of the window wishing he had someone to talk to…but that’s for another story.
As I entered the room I looked up and saw this elderly man watching me...no, inspecting me. He probably in his early 80s, though rather thin he appeared “fit” to me. He was clearly already up, sitting upright in the hospital bed, his gown straightened and I could swear it looked as if he had combed his full head of white hair. It was a little before 6am. I greeted him with a “good morning sir” as I usually do. He said good morning but I could tell his eyes were happy to see me. I didn’t know him. This was my first time seeing him.
He looked me over. I asked him about his abdominal pain and how he felt overnight. He answered but was focused on something else. It was palpable but as an intern on the Trauma service with 43 other patients to get to before 7am, I wasn’t about to ask another question. I was courteous but swift...at this point I was still getting good. Those days just before 6am I always felt rushed. The whirlwind of the day ahead was constantly running through my mind, calculating the minutes I had before I needed to meet the chief resident.
While I hustled around his room writing down his vitals on my list, asking for overnight symptoms, examining his belly, I felt like I was a disorganized mess, which was how I usually felt during that hectic year of learning and growing from mistakes. As I made my parting remarks to leave the room he stopped me. He said, “You know I was a general surgeon, and I did my residency at this very hospital 50+ years ago, and as well as my internship.”
I suddenly felt ridiculous. But he didn’t look at me like I was ridiculous. He went on, “It’s really great to see you dress up for the occasion, the other residents just wear scrubs all the time.” I was wearing a dress shirt, slacks and tie that day for clinic (usually I just wore scrubs).
He continued, “We were required to wear a tie at all times out of the operation room in my day, and we would go back and forth to the operating room multiple times a day. It was a real pain but it showed patients our commitment to excellence and professionalism. I’m really glad to see you have that same commitment. You look very professional unlike the rest of these residents.”
I stood there and smiled and thanked him for his kind words. I knew that I usually didn’t have a dress shirt and tie on, but I was sure glad I did that day.
Fourteen years later I remember those comments. I certainly didn’t do a very good job of looking professional for the next 5 years in residency, but that one encounter reminds me that patients notice what we wear. We assume they don’t, but they definitely do. It’s become important for me to look like a professional for my patients. It gives them confidence that they are in the right place with the right doctor and they will be taken care of appropriately…which is sometimes half the battle.
About the author:
Dr. Buck Parker is a Board Certified General Surgeon in Salt Lake City Utah practicing Acute Care Surgery. Dr Parker has a Youtube channel that helps high school and college students with their journey into medicine. Check out Dr. Parker on Instagram and Youtube!