The night before my first shift in general practice, I frantically messaged one of my doctor-heroes on Twitter (@sindivanzyl). I think I was hoping for a cheat sheet, something about hypertension and diabetes, but the one thing she emphasised was, “Please, please, always examine your patients.”
For medical students that would probably sound absurd. Duh, how can one not examine the patient?
But I learned quickly that, in an environment where there are always more patients to see, it is sometimes easier to make a quick observation from across the desk than to do as we have been taught.
Nary a day goes by that I don’t think back on that advice – “Please, always examine the patient.” Even if I just stand next to the person I’m starting on antidepressants, and take their pulse rate. Feel their thyroid. Check for pallor. Do the good medicine.
Not just because happy patients come back – I don’t care much for “business”.
Not just because I might pick up something occult – more often than not, I won’t.
But because when I promised to heal and not to harm, I promised to be the caring hand. Because when I reach out to percuss a chest, or to palpate a disgruntled abdomen, mine may be the only benevolent touch that a person experiences that day. And I think that sometimes, a soft hand and a thorough examination are worth more than any medication I might dispense.