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Luciali72x723Lucia Li -- “The time to stop talking is when the other person nods his head affirmatively but says nothing.”

Left to our own devices, we medics can be pretty lousy conversationalists. We are those awful people who no-one wants to invite en masse to parties because we congregate by ourselves in a little corner and talk about things sane people try to avoid.

My non-medic friends in college used to jokingly ban all “medic-chat” from parties, claiming that it demonstrated that we had no lives outside medicine (probably true) and that it was boring (evidently a falsehood). It’s a sad fact of life that we medical students talk about virtually nothing else but medicine (occasionally, we talk about medical school). And it’s actually very hard to not talk about medicine even when talking to non-medics. Ironically, that’s often when I talk about medicine the most, probably because I spend so much time in medicine that I have lost confidence in my ability to hold a decent conversation in anything else when wrenched from that bubble. (My non-medic friends would remark that medicine doesn’t make for a decent conversation either.)

But I am a staunch defender of “medic-chat”. Irrespective of whether medicine is a fascinating topic of conversation or not (it is), we medics would not survive as a profession without it. We certainly wouldn’t get through med school without it.

The practice of medicine is all about teamwork; talking about our jobs outside when we’re not working is just one part of that. Shared experiences forge stronger professional relationships and camaraderie. After a tough/ disappointing/ hard/ long day at the hospital, talking to a fellow medic about it is often just what’s needed to help you deal with it and, more importantly, make you want to go back in there and do it all again.

But by far the most important part about "medic-chat" is that it’s with other medics -- people who understand what it’s like, both the good bits and the bad. In the hospital, so much of what we are privileged to hear, see, and do is unique. Some of it is downright traumatic, revealing humanity at its worst, its most vulnerable. Acting as each other’s counselors, we don’t judge if another medic is less that PC about something, we understand the little triumphs, and we sympathize with the failures.

There will always be times when medicine is the last thing I want to talk about. But, when the going gets tough and I just have to deal with what’s coming, it’s the medic-chat that will see me through.

November 29, 2008 in Lucia Li | Permalink


Yeah, I feel ya on the medic-chat issue. My family members quickly tune me out when I "go there." It sucks when someone asks you how your day went and you respond with "well I saw this guy that tried to kill himself by...." and you're met with horrified faces before you can even finish the sentence. Sheesh, i want to learn how to converse like a normal person again!!!

Posted by: Medic guy | Dec 2, 2008 6:12:43 PM

when it comes to medicine we are all a good chatter because it makes 3/4 of your life if not 4/4, in my country people like to talk and hear about everything exept medicine and health issues and I do not know if other countries also have this problem. thank you

Posted by: rozhan | Dec 3, 2008 12:34:08 PM

It is true that we love medicine and I think that is the only way for keep on studying, but it has also a negative side, we are so near to human suffering that we get used to it, so when we talk about diseases or accidents we forget that most people can't look suffering and the disease as different aspects of humanity. Many times we talk about AIDS, cancer, rare deformities as interesting issues, that are shocking to non medics because they don't see the duality as we can (or need), but never forgetting that there is a human being on top of the theory.

Posted by: Psykel | Dec 3, 2008 3:52:11 PM

I'm a 6th year medical student in Bogotá, Colombia...
I had an attending in Pediatrics who at the beggining of the rotation asked us to pick a book of our choice (not related to medicine of course) and write him an essay about the book by the end of the rotation... even though there was a lot of ppl who didn't read any book, neither wrote any report, I did, and I think it's a good way to promote knowledge outside the clinical area. He used to tell us "The one who just knows about medicine, nothing knows", I kind of agree with him

I totally agree with u... but in the other hand I would really like to be able to talk about many different things, not because I dont like "medic-chat" since I really do, just because I like knowledge and general culture, I always try to stay up-to-date when it comes to relevant information on daily newspapers... I also like to read a book once in a while on history (since I dont really like literature)... I still consider I can have a nice conversation about anything else that it's not related to medicine, or at least I think so, ok certainly not about politics which is a topic I really hate, lol...

Nice post! Greetings from Colombia

Posted by: Diego Nova | Dec 3, 2008 4:04:56 PM

well... we should atleast try to refrain from medic chat when others feel offended... like we in the medical world can talk about bloody operations during lunch but others might not be able to take it... esp those not in the same field...we have learned to be sensitive when we were taught bedside manners,right?.. we should use whatever we have learned in our field even outside our tiny bubble world ... isnt it also relaxing to atleast talk about dresses,parties,games once in a while?

Posted by: ninette_umpa | Dec 4, 2008 3:33:03 AM

I agree with you. I dont think this problem is isolated to medical students. I am a final year nursing student, and get a group of nurses together, or even just two or three for that matter, and the conversation always ends up being dominated by 'nursie talk'. As you stated in you cloumn it also becomes apparent that nursing/medicine becomes a focus of conversation when conversing with people who are not health professionals. I often find this at family events etc. Becoming a nurse/doctor, adds another dimension to your identity and for the many years we study, it becomes the main focus. We cant leave it at work, or at school, we NEED to talk about. Being a health professional menas that not only do we talk about health related topics, but politics, world wide issues, current events, the economy all come in to the conversation. I guess for most these topics are relatively boring, but how do you do superficial talk about everyday "blah blah" when you have the need to discuss the latest crisis or medical research?

Posted by: Rachel | Dec 4, 2008 6:29:31 PM

thats a nice piece of work. we cannot just avoid talking medicine just to make others happy. its our way of life.

Posted by: obadas | Dec 11, 2008 1:37:12 AM

yep it's our way of life and really we NEED to discuss stuff- how else do we de-stress and try to retain all the info being pushed down our throats without retching and developing a Mallory Weiss or something, lol.
I agree we can try to keep some convos simple with friends or away from med but I personally dont discuss med with non- medics cause I dont want them to feel offended like telling them I had tachycardia or I had malaise....lol...

Posted by: Kayan | Dec 12, 2008 3:10:49 PM

I agree with Rozhan that people training within Medicine, Nursing and all allied health areas for that matter; become consumed with it. But it is just the same as a group of Lawyers talking "shop" with their friends and family. It is just harder for us because we have a definitive level of gore attached to our days. I am lucky to have friends and family that understand that and are actually interested in the fact I got sprayed with blood today or that I saw someone with a terrible illness. Eventually once we manage to become fully qualified and actually have some resemblance of lives outside the hospitals/practices that we will train in, I hope we will be able to hold conversations about the World, Economics and other non-Medic-Chat things...

Good Post!

Posted by: Amy | Dec 17, 2008 3:01:29 AM

anybody care for a medic joke???

Posted by: jonazzz | Jan 3, 2009 12:10:11 AM

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