Treating People, Not Diseases

Friday, February 20, 2015

Rush medical students dig deeper to learn about patients

By Mark Donahue

It takes a team to provide high-quality medical care through all the shift changes that happen during a day in a hospital. Recently, Rush Medical College students took a creative approach to reminding staff that the patient shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

On Feb. 13, the students took part in National Solidary Day for Compassionate Patient Care, an event aimed at humanizing patients in the eyes of physicians, nurses and other medical staff.

“You’re acknowledging that the patient is a person first of all,” said Christina Creel-Bulos, a fourth-year medical student at Rush and one of the participants. “Because we’re taking care of people with diseases, not diseases alone.”

Creel-Bulos and a group of her fellow students spent time before the event interviewing patients in the internal medicine, neurology and pediatrics departments at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. They asked two basic questions: What do you want people to know about you? and What is most important to you?

The students made posters for the patients with their answers. In the case of pediatrics, the students helped children create these with markers and crayons. The posters were then placed near patient bedsides.

‘New avenues for communicating’

It’s a potent reminder for staff , particularly physicians, who face challenges in connecting with the people whom they care for.

“The ever-increasing pressure on physicians to be more productive in their billing, the demands of documentation and the increasing use of diagnostic technology over the ‘laying on of hands’ all contribute to distancing physicians from their patients,” said Keith Boyd, MD, senior associate dean of medical education for RMC.

For Miguel Morcuende, a third-year medical student who made posters with the kids, the day served as an important reminder as he continues his studies.  

“It brings me closer to the patients and their families,” he said. “And it opened new avenues for communicating and interacting with them that just weren’t there before. It’s something that, on a day-to-day basis, we tend to forget as medical professionals, to interact with our patients as people as we do with our family and  friends.”

Doctors and nurses in the three departments at Rush where posters were displayed were very supportive of the student effort, Creel-Bulos said, as were patients and their families. 

Solidarity Day was inspired by the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six dead and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others wounded. Giffords later praised the trauma surgeon who saved her life for his compassionate care.

Focusing on the individual

The event is promoted nationally by the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS), an initiative of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The society comprises more than 19,000 medical students, residents and physicians across the country. Rush hosts a chapter in which candidates are nominated by fellow students in the fourth year of studies.

This the first time Rush students participated in Solidarity Day activities. Creel-Bulos, who is a GHHS member, said the Rush chapter became aware of it after the launch of Mount Sinai Hospital’s “Tell Me More” campaign, on which Rush students modeled their effort.

Events like these are part of a larger effort to better help students at Rush prepare for the human element of their future work, said Boyd.

“Through the [Rush Community Service Initiatives Program], the early exposure of students to physicians in practice and changes in the curriculum focused on the social issues in medical care, RMC is working to remind all of us of the humanity of patients,” he said. “The participation of RMC students in this valuable Gold Humanism Honor Society event reminds us all that we must focus on the treatment of the individual, not the disease.”

Next year Creel-Bulos said the GHHS chapter would like to expand the effort to other disciplines in the hospital and include nursing and physician assistant students, as well.