Before beginning medical school, I believed that the best doctors were those who were geniuses, similar to the fictional Dr. House. They would walk in to a patient’s room, ask one or two questions, and immediately diagnose them without a sense of doubt. They would then walk out with a smug look as they told the team the correct treatment which ultimately saved the patient’s life. They remembered esoteric medical facts that solved mystery cases, leaving everyone else on the medical team in awe.
The more I go through medicine as a trainee, however, I am starting to realize the following: You will save more lives by being thorough than by trying to be a genius.
The best doctors chart checks their patients fully before seeing them. They read every note. They review each lab and chase down every abnormality regardless of whether or not it is the patient’s primary problem. They read every sentence in an imaging report to make sure nothing is missed. When they interview a patient, their HPI and review of systems is exhaustive.
They go a step beyond by remembering personal facts about each patient that they see. They comfort patients when there is doubt, and they inspire their trainees to be better and spend more time on their craft. They know when the risks and harm of invasive procedures outweigh the potential benefits. They do not see time as a boundary and focus their effort on addressing every patient’s medical and psychosocial care.
An attending once told me, “The only factor that will remain the same between who you are now and who you will be 5 years from now is your work ethic. Experience is always going to make you better and build on your knowledge. However, it’s how thorough you are that is going to make the difference.”