Patient Theory: Bridging the communication gap between patients and students of health professions

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Today’s guest article comes from 2nd year DPT student Edwin Porras with a continuation of a personal story that centralizes on the theme of patient communication and patient experience.


I did not expect to write a blog post about my grandmother passing away. I never imagined sharing something so private, emotionally intimate, and even traumatic. I did not in a thousand years think I would be advocating compassion from this side of the fence. The side where poor communication hit home hard. Lastly, I was more than likely naive, but I did not think I would even discuss this matter with anybody outside of my family.

So, you could say things got personal for me. And even though it made me uncomfortable, upset (again), and vulnerable, I published the story.

It has been painful enough to deal with this life situation as many of you can likely relate to losing a loved one. Compounded is the fact that I will soon be a healthcare provider and yet, I felt scared and alarmingly confused during it all. Even now, months removed, I can’t help but think to myself “If I know how this show works and I felt that way- how must a patient with no medical background feel each day walking into an unknown clinic or hospital?”

The thought makes me cringe.

It is this thought that drives a sense of urgency in me to promote change. My family and I simply desired to be informed fully in a compassionate manner that was honest and did not avoid the truth. Was it easy? No. But was it simple? Absolutely.

Just as before, I’m not writing to seek sympathy or a pat on the back. The purpose of sharing such a private event in my life is to drive change in the way we treat patients. Heck, it’s to try and influence how we treat each other as a society. I don’t want to sound melodramatic but at the end of the day behind the white coats and degrees hanging on the wall it’s people who we deal with daily. So why does it seem that (some) healthcare professionals have lost touch with the concept of empathy? That might sound like a rhetorical question, but not for me. I will be out on clinical rotations soon and the concept of kindness, caring, and compassion in patient care have, for better or worse, been drilled into my brain.

But this story must have a happy ending, right? This can’t be an Episode of Grey’s Anatomy where the last scene is a cliffhanger where the main character is left in a precarious situation, can it? I hope to make that the case. I hope to take this experience and shape it into a positive one to benefit the patients I will see in the future. This isn’t meant to be a doom and gloom blog post. Instead, I want to make it an encouraging documentation of what I have learned.

So here it is:

1) I am a human-professional: That may sound weird but hear me out. I will take a

professional oath and it is my ethical duty to act as such in the clinic. What is also true is that the service I will provide is for other people. Just as I have stresses and circumstances within my own life, so is true for the people I will serve. To me that means treating the numbness and tingling caused by a C6 Cervical Radiculopathy and take an extra 10 minutes to talk to a patient who just lost a parent. I need to

demonstrate genuine compassion- not just cordially. I may see 10 patients the rest of the day- but this person may not see anybody again until your next appointment. 2) Get comfortable communicating the uncomfortable: It can be a conversation with a

patient who asks if he will ever walk again (the answer is no). Or about the average recovery time of an ACL reconstruction with a 17-year-old (who should be starting her last basketball season ever in less than two months). Uncomfortable and tough conversations are all around- especially in patient care, and if there is one thing I would have wished for during my own experience it would be early and tactful communication of the unthinkable. 3) Communicate-communicate-communicate: In addition to the hard conversations, there will be plenty of time where clarification and emphasizing will be needed. Aside from my grandmother’s story you all read, the communication throughout the entire experience was horrendous. With a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a student physio, I have learned plenty of anatomy/physiology/pathology in the classroom- but I STILL needed clarification on the pathoanatomical language that the cardiologists were using. Not only will I avoid medical jargon, but- you know what lets just move into the next lesson 4) Ask if the patient has any questions-and then ACTUALLY wait for a response: This

could honestly be #1 and it is the most infuriating characteristic of ANY professional. I absolutely cannot stand the token “Okay any questions? Good.” I hated it in college, I hate it now, and I especially hate it when I don’t feel that I was given a legitimate opportunity to express or clarify my understanding. I will always allow patients plenty of time to think about questions they may have.

So, there are the lessons I learned. I understand that as a student this may be easy for me to say now and I completely understand that some days ya just don’t got the energy. It is on those days that I will lean on my support system and check myself. This experience is a part of who I am now, and although it was extremely difficult, I hope to make lemonade out of lemons to make my future patients feel genuinely cared for by their physical therapist.

-Thank you for reading.


Edwin Porras is a second year DPT student from Kansas City striving to improve communication between patients and healthcare professionals through stories which you can read here: https://patienttheory.wordpress.com/.  You can read his “Part 1” by clicking [HERE].

If you have a personal story about an experience in the healthcare system you would like to share OR simply want to connect, e-mail [email protected]msn.com OR follow @EdwinPorrasSPT on Twitter.

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