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Why Patients Remind Me of Squanto

Ben_4Ben Bryner -- The Thanksgiving holiday is always a good chance to come up with a list of things you’re grateful for. As Anna mentioned, health is something to be grateful for (and this is especially true after spending time in medical school). Another relevant aspect of Thanksgiving that I’ve realized while in medical school is that it was an important teaching occasion. According to the legends, at least, Squanto and other Native Americans bailed out the Pilgrims by teaching them how to prepare eels, corn and other North American foods. This lesson supposedly culminated in a huge feast with all this new food, after which the Pilgrims returned the favor by teaching the Native Americans how to properly lie back in a reclining chair and stare off into the distance at nothing (because football would not be invented for some time).

Now of course, Thanksgiving has changed. If there’s any teaching going on as part of the holiday, it’s more likely to be about how to best elbow your way past a horde of shoppers to grab a cheap laptop. (This is because the day after Thanksgiving marks the high tide of commercialism in the country; what Valentine’s Day is to love, and what Christmas is to giving, the day after Thanksgiving is to spending.) Certainly, nobody’s ever taught me how to catch and clean an eel. In fact, I think eels have played absolutely no role in any Thanksgiving I can remember.

Now that I’m a medical student, the teaching element has gained a lot of importance when I think about Thanksgiving. One of the things I’m most grateful for are the many people who teach me throughout the year. At the top of the list are the patients who let me learn history-taking and exam skills. I appreciate the excellent residents and attendings, of course, but I do pay them tuition, and without patients they’d have fewer opportunities to teach. In some ways the patients are like Squanto, although none of them have names as cool as his. But like him, they willingly and freely let me learn from them without expecting anything in return. The willingness of (most) patients to have a student learn from them by taking their history, participating in their procedure, and talking to them about their lives, never ceases to amaze me. I am thankful for their time, patience and encouragement -- the gifts they offer instead of shucked corn and baked eels.

November 21, 2007 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


i loved this story, medical student Ben. As a great admirier (sp?) of med students and physicans i must say that i would be perfectly willing to help out a med student in anyway i could. In fact, i think it would be really interesting to be involved in your learning experience and would love to be a part of it all, since i can't be on the side of the stethescope i really wish i was...! What a really kind column for you to write...thanks! Keep on writing, i really enjoy your work and have a wonderful holiday.
Sincerely, tracy

Posted by: Tracy | Nov 22, 2007 8:38:27 AM

ps Loved the funny eel remarks!

Posted by: Tracy | Nov 22, 2007 8:40:01 AM

I am a nursing student and I was just telling one of my fellow students that if I am ever hospitalized and someone assigns me a student nurse I am going to get out of the bed and run the other way!
My fellow students and I are all first semesters and feel like fish out of water some days. Procedures that take RN's minutes to complete take us many, many minutes and even then the task is completed rather awkwardly.
I am very, very grateful to my patients for having patience with us. They allow us to be in their most intimate of spaces, trusting us, and letting us learn the skills necessary to be RN's. That is kindness and trust that I am ever so grateful for.

Posted by: Jolene | Nov 27, 2007 5:34:58 PM

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