The Ultimate Lesson in Humanism

Kelly Gardner '14
uvmmedicine blogger Kelly Gardner ’14

As a fourth year medical student I’ve had free reign over most of my schedule, completing rotations with pediatric oncologists, pediatric radiologists, and pediatric cardiologists. Notice a theme here? I’m one of the many lucky ones going into pediatrics! However, we are all required to do a month long Acting Internship in adult medicine. This was a rotation I was not especially looking forward to. Not that the adult medicine residents and attendings aren’t wonderful people, I just prefer my patients a little smaller. What I didn’t realize was that during my “AI” on the adult oncology service I would get the ultimate lesson in humanism – to remember to always have empathy for my patients, their families, and each other.

Two days before my AI started, my father became critically ill. I had to navigate these murky waters while being hours away from my family, taking care of cancer patients and their families. There were days that seemed impossible, but it gave me the ability to truly understand what my patients and their families were going through. I intimately understood what it was like to look at a loved one and not know how much time you had left with them. One day in particular comes to mind, when a patient’s significant other became very angry with me and the team on morning rounds. She wasn’t yelling at us, she needed something tangible to be upset with because you can’t yell at cancer. My response was to slow down and repeat my explanations, listen to her frustrations, and put my hand on her shoulder as I left the room. I didn’t take it personally, because I knew exactly how she felt.

My team of interns, residents, fellows, and attendings had only met me for the first time on the first day of my rotation. I was blown away by their compassion and understanding on the days when I was struggling. They took time away from their own work to make sure I had the support I needed.  I hope as a resident  (and someday an attending!) I too can have that much empathy for my colleagues.

In medicine the days are long, the work is hard, and we all get a little rough around the edges sometimes. On a busy day we may forget to be fully present for our patients, their families, and each other. My AI taught me far more than I ever imagined. It reminded me that humanism is the ultimate gift we can give, because sometimes you end up on the other side of medicine.

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