I had an incredible experience on my palliative care rotation. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Whenever I informed people what rotation I was in, many wrinkled up their faces and said, “Ooh, it’s got to be depressing being around so many dying people”.
I have to say that my experience was quite the opposite. It is a different way of practicing medicine. Rather than focusing on curing a patient, one is focused on making them as comfortable as possible as they navigate the last months, weeks, days, hours and seconds of their lives. I found it a true privilege to accompany people on this journey.
I very much enjoyed how much time I got to spend with each patient and their families on a daily basis. It was certainly never easy discussing a short prognosis but in some ways, families found relief in having an idea of their loved one’s trajectory and in knowing they would be kept as comfortable as possible. The main things that impact heavily on dying patients, particularly in the context of terminal cancer, are pain, nausea, lack of appetite and a progressive sense of loss as they decline in function. Although it can be difficult to do much about the loss of function, it is staggering to see how much better a patient feels when their pain and nausea can be controlled.
On this rotation, I worked with an excellent interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, PABs and art therapists. I was truly inspired by their dedication and compassion for our patients. I certainly struggled with my emotions when I lost a patient (which was almost on a daily basis) especially seeing the profound impact on the family members left behind. I truly treasure the meaningful connections I had with patients and their families on this rotation.
I also had the opportunity to participate in home visits. There was something especially touching about being able to go into a patient’s home and deliver care to them in an environment where they feel most at home.
Overall, my palliative care rotation was one of my best experiences in medical school. I encourage medical students out there wondering what electives to take to strongly consider taking it. It will change your perspective on life.
As my fourth year of medical school continues, I feel my confidence as a doctor-in-training progressively growing. There is still so much to learn of course. One of the great things about medicine, is the challenge of constantly growing and learning new things. As I ponder the current stage in my training, I am so grateful to be on this path to becoming a doctor, as difficult and challenging as it can be.
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