A deeper relationship in patient care

Our blogger this month is Dr. Juanita Heersink who spent a month at Siloam as part of her Internal Medicine Residency training from the University of Alabama.  Dr Heersink writes…

I came into this rotation with little expectation of what the experience would bring me.  I knew that Siloam was faith-based and that it served uninsured patients, but I knew very little else. Dr. Juanita Heersink - UAB Resident, discusses a case with the social worker.

Residency training has left me with a lackluster view of what a primary care clinic is.  In training we have very little patient continuity because of our hospital schedules, we pack 5 to 6 complex patients into a clinic half day, and we have very little clinic support available (social workers, pharmacists, etc).  I have left resident clinic many days wondering if I would truly be able to enjoy a career in primary care and feeling discouraged by the lack of impact and change I saw in my patient’s lives.

On one particularly busy clinic day [at Siloam] I found myself hurriedly preparing a plan for a patient who had been seen for chronic abdominal pain multiple times and had undergone a thorough work up without elucidation of a clear cause.  I was busy juggling the phone for the interpreter and trying to find a patient handout in her language. 

As I ushered her to the lab, I saw that there was a small blue piece of paper stuck in her chart, “This patient has requested prayer.”  I made the pastor aware of her request and headed back to the clinic to continue working. 

Later that evening the pastor pulled me aside and let me know that while he was praying with the patient she began crying and related to him several distressing things she had been experiencing in her marriage and her home.  The pastor prayed with her about these things and had the BHC discuss them with her in further depth.  The BHC was able to provide her some tangible resources and ideas for how she could begin to make change in her life. 

I was impressed at how much I had missed in my 30-45 minutes with the patient and how grateful I felt for a staff that went the extra mile to make sure that each patient was seen and truly heard. 

I feel so privileged to have stumbled on this incredible opportunity and I will always carry my experiences here at Siloam with me.  It does not take a lot of extra time to dig a little deeper than a patient’s surface physical complaints and the reward for the patient and physician is significant. 

I believe that if our nation’s health care system wants any hope to reform, to cut costs, and to make an impact on the overwhelming cost of chronic medical conditions that we need more clinics that incorporate a whole person, interdisciplinary approach to patient care.  How can we hope to practice preventative medicine or to impact our patient’s lives if we do not see them as a whole person and have a relationship with them that extends deeper than just their physical being?

One thought on “A deeper relationship in patient care

  1. Wonderful words, Dr. Heersink! I love that you are seeking to see patients as whole persons, to treat not just their physical symptoms but their spiritual and emotional ones as well.

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