Medical jargon and understandability

Not long ago, my (non-medical) fiance Luke pointed out, over the years since I’ve been in medical school, that my conversations with my med school friends have become more and more incoherent from his perspective. This isn’t really surprising, considering the huge amount of vocabulary that gets taught, especially within the first 2 years. Like many technical fields, a big part of medicine is learning to speak the language. What sets medicine apart from other jargon-heavy professions, however, is that doctors spend the majority of their time speaking with laypeople who are unfamiliar with that vast vocabulary that we’ve spent years building. The beginning of 3rd year was a bit of culture shock for me, after spending the first 2 years locked away in a lecture hall, when I realized that I had to learn how to communicate effectively with my patients (few of whom had any great measure of health literacy or any sort of higher education). When I first started med school, I thought that learning all the vocabulary in the first place would be the challenge. Now, I’m finding that explaining what I know in simple terms is much harder. Some words and phrases have become so natural to me that I’ve lost sight of whether or not they’re considered “normal” words that most people are familiar with.

For those of you that are working in/studying in similarly technical fields, have you found jargon creeping into your everyday speech? If so, do you struggle to communicate with those outside your field?

Playing doctor

It’s Halloween, and everyone is playing dress-up. The funny thing is that I feel like I’ve been playing dress-up every day for the past year. I alluded before to how the practice of medicine is, in large part, about putting on a show, and I feel like, as a medical student, this is more true than at any other stage of training. We’re not only trying to convince our patients, our residents, and our attendings of how competent we are, but I think, to an extent, also ourselves. It’s no wonder that impostor syndrome is rampant among the med student population.

When I was doing my clinical rotations as a 3rd year, I was often told that I should strive to have my patients regard me as “their doctor.” It wasn’t rare for my superiors to introduce me as “Student Doctor” (which, though technically correct, is a title that is, in my opinion, designed to mislead patients) or “Doctor,” and I occasionally even dared to use the “Student Doctor” moniker to refer to myself. The truth is that I’m closer to being a “real” doctor than I’d like to think. But until then, I’ll keep putting on my costume and playing my part. Fake it ’til you make it, right?

Process of elimination

The studying continues, despite the fact that I’ve forgotten quite a bit of the medical knowledge that I once had. I’ve made it a point to try to do a set of practice questions every day and, despite the fact that I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing when I stumble through the questions, I seem to be doing better than I expected. I find that in most cases when I get the correct answer, it isn’t because I know my stuff. More often than not, it’s because I had some vague intuition that one of the answers felt more friendly than the others. I guess I should be glad that the questions are multiple-choice!

Medical knowledge during med school

So… I’m still studying for USMLE Step 2. I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through my admittedly over-ambitious stack of review books and practice questions and, as I’ve been doing so, I’m realizing more and more that I’ve forgotten an enormous amount of information since I took Step 1 a year and a half ago. It would have been bad enough if I had gone straight through to 4th year, but taking a research year means that my brain has become quite the rust bucket in these past few months. I hope that I’ll be able to brush off some of these cobwebs in time to not fail.

Meanwhile, my 4th year friends seems to be in much the same state as myself. Many of them have already completed their important rotations are now cruising along toward graduation. They say that 4th year is like having a vacation for half a year. I certainly hope that that will be true for me next year. Is it too early for me to have senioritis?

On (failing at) practicing what you preach

One thing that every health professional is always trying to do is to convince patients to change their behavior. Whether it’s the woman with diabetes who could really benefit from losing a few pounds, the guy with heart failure who needs to lay off the BBQ, or the teenager who just won’t take his meds, we spend a good portion of our days touting the virtues of whatever lifestyle modification it is this time, and probably an even bigger portion complaining to one another about how much healthier everyone would be if they just got off their asses and took more of an interest in their own health.

Of course, it’s easy to get self-righteous when we’re talking about other people. I’m pretty sure that if I had a chronic illness and had to take medications on a daily basis, avoid certain foods, etc., that I would be just as non-compliant as many of the patients I’ve seen in the hospital. You’d think that being highly educated (and not only that, but being highly educated in medicine and health) would motivate me to make healthier decisions (and I do try, I really do), but knowing the nitty gritty pathophysiological details gives me plenty of room to rationalize how this or that general recommendation doesn’t apply to me. Ironic, isn’t it?