OPINION: Life advice from an Alaska doctor, for new doctors and others

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Traditionally, new physicians start on or about July 1. That is when medical students that have been studying hard in the classroom often migrate to clinical rotations in the hospital. It is also when newly-graduated medical students start their internships and residencies. I have a son who is starting his clinical rotations as a medical student, and I wrote him a letter with a list of my suggestions on how to succeed — the ideas are actually transferrable to many other types of work or life experiences.

Never be late for anything! This is a cardinal sin, especially for a student or young doctor.

Say “thank you” often and be kind to all, from the person who empties the trash to the doctor that performs heart transplants, and everyone in between.

As a medical student or new intern, always remember the nurses know more than you. Treat them with respect, thank them generously and bring food often.

Always have a question that you can ask. Do not be a noisy fly that buzzes around and asks too many questions of little value, or try to impress others with flattery. Be sincere. But think and ponder, and have a question in your pocket so that when the moment is right, you can ask a thoughtful question and hopefully stimulate a good discussion.

Do not be the first to leave — it can create a bad impression.

Do not ever throw shade or disparage anyone; it only makes you look bad and untrustworthy.

Recognize your limitations. If you do not know the answer to something, be honest. If you do not know how to do something, say so and ask for assistance. It is perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me research your question (or problem) and get back to you.” One of the hallmarks of a good physician is knowing your limitations.

If you have access to the surgery schedule for the next day, or with upcoming office patient schedules, try to study and prepare.

Never refer to a patient as the diagnosis, always refer to them by their name. Do not say “I am seeing a diabetic patient,” but rather say “I am seeing Mrs. Jones, who has diabetes.” Our patients are humans, not objects.

When you meet a patient, always introduce yourself. If other family members are present, introduce yourself to them as well. The most important thing you will ever do as a physician is develop a patient relationship based upon trust.

No matter how difficult the circumstances, never ever destroy all hope. All patients need the reassurance that no matter how dark the trial, there is some glimmer of hope for a better day. I am not encouraging dishonesty, but rather, be truthful in a compassionate way.

In time of drought, farmers pray for rain. Likewise, when great difficulties arise with your patients, pray for them.

Be a physician of integrity and treat others with kindness and respect. Most patients want to do the right thing. A few are dishonest or manipulative, and you will learn to discern the difference. Many patients have lived a life that is much more challenging than anything you or I have ever experienced.

Be grateful! You have a divine opportunity to live a wonderful life and help others in their time of need. There is nothing more honorable!

Dr. Dana P. Damron, MD, is a physician at Alaska Native Medical Center and Providence Alaska Medical Center.

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