Bioethics Blogs

My Patient

By Suzanne Minor

The student used the phrase “my patient” six times during the brief patient interaction: “I don’t like my patients to not exercise.”  “I like it when my patients eat healthy.”  “I like it when my patients take their medications” and so on.  Many students use this phrase occasionally, but this was striking.  I wondered what his motivation was.  Was he nervous?  Or did he think the patients were his?  After the interaction, I debriefed with him, asking him what went well and what he could improve. He did not bring up his use of “my patient” so I did.  He was unaware of his saying “my patient” and could not reflect on why he was doing so.  I asked him what he thought this phrase might mean to the patient.

“The patient”, he queried, “what does that have to do with it?”  I was frustrated, somewhat aghast that this third-year student, steeped in patient-centered interviewing throughout his first two years of school, missed that the patient had something to do with their own care and that the phrase “my patient” might claim ownership of another person or their attributes, such as soul, physical being, or responsibilities…

I asked him, “Who is responsible for the patient’s care?”

“I am,” he responded quickly.  Specifically relating the discussion to patient autonomy from his clinical skills training, he voiced some understanding that the hypothetical patient shared some responsibility for her care, but could not imagine this actual patient playing a chief role in their well-being as he felt that was his role as the physician-in-training.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.