Monday, July 18th, 2016

They Were Waiting

Christina Hughey

My third year of medical school began with a family medicine outpatient clinic clerkship, which is quite a different setting than my last 6 years practicing as a Registered Nurse in the inpatient dialysis unit. This was my first practical patient care experience in the ambulatory setting. One thing struck me about the family medicine clinic that I had not experienced at any point prior to this. The patients were waiting.

Every morning, I arrived to the clinic at 0715. The first patients were scheduled at 0800, so this gave me time to review charts, contemplate possible diagnosis, and research anything confusing or medications with which I was unfamiliar.

Patients were scheduled every 20 minutes. However, as is often the case, appointments begin to run off schedule — a patient runs late because she relies on public transportation, rooming takes an abnormally long time, insurance changes at the front desk, etc. The reasons are many and varied but leave me with 15 minutes or less for each patient.

Despite best efforts, there is, more often than not, an important delay early in my schedule. Believe it or not, patients will arrive for an annual physical and upon reviewing their symptoms I discover they have had a couple of weeks of crushing chest pains. Well, we can’t ignore that one! By the second or third patient scheduled for the day, there begins… the wait.

As soon as I finished with a patient, I would immediately move to the next patient’s room. Before my hand would knock on the closed, thick oak door, I knew they were in there. Waiting.

The waiting is profound to me because there is an incredible amount of character in the way people wait.

A 22 year-­‐old new mom was playing with her 5 month old.
A 75 year-­old female newly diagnosed with cancer was reading a self-­‐help book on coping.
A 55 year-­‐old male for an upper respiratory infection was working on a crossword puzzle.
A 47 year-­‐old female following up on prediabetes labs was knitting.
A 35 year-­old male for a general check-­‐up was screaming profanities.
A 67 year-­old female to discuss back pain was listening to NPR via ear buds on her phone.

There is so much one can learn about people from their waiting styles. But, it also made me realize there is a short list of professions or circumstances where customers will wait over 20 minutes for their services. If I went to a restaurant, was seated at a table, and no one came to wait on me within 15 minutes, I would likely get up and leave.

What an honor it is to serve people. To gain their trust enough to learn of their vulnerabilities, the things that are ailing them, it takes time. It takes more than 15 minutes to discuss your anxieties. It takes more than 15 minutes to explain your medications and lab results. It takes more than 15 minutes to comfort you in a time of need.

Some of this has to do with the doctor shortage. Some of this has to do with the system. Some of this has to do with patient acuity in outpatient settings. But, maybe, someday the wait will change.

Until then, I promise I will do my best to serve you when I see you. I promise I will give you as much attention as you need. Because of this, I cannot guarantee I will knock on that door exactly at your scheduled time.

But when I knock, just know, I know— you have been waiting.

About Christina Hughey

Christina Hughey PhotoChristina Hughey is a third year medical student at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. She is a Kansas native and earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing with a minor in applied behavior science in 2010 from the University of Kansas. She continues to work as a Registered Nurse in Inpatient Dialysis, where her patient care experiences inform her everyday practice of medicine. In her spare time, she serves as the Chair of the Student Government Association where she guides the university in policy decisions from a student perspective. She has gone on multiple international medical missions to Kenya, Belize, and Panama and volunteers  at local underserved  free health clinics for high risk youth and immigrant populations. She hopes to incorporate academic research into everyday practice as she was the recipient of an NIH T32 grant, which gave her the funding to complete an internship in the Alzheimer’s lab of Dr. Russell Swerdlow, MD. She ultimately aspires to serve Kansans as a critical care/pulmonary physician after completing an internal medicine residency and critical care/pulmonary fellowship.

2 thoughts on “They Were Waiting

  1. I have known some details about Christina Hughey one her long and arduous journey to become a doctor. We have not met, but frequently have exchanges via Facebook; I have met her mother via FB, too. She clearly posts information that reveals so much about her character and especially her dedication to medicine. She loves her work just as she loves those in her personal life including her family. She does not complain but has commented on the difficulties and concerns about her own progress which always ends in a positive conclusion. I am a major user of the medical system via The University of Kansas Medical Center. As she observes the waiting patients in a medical clinic. I observe, too, the patients waiting as well as the members of the medical team in the clinic. A patient can tell so much about the culture of the clinic by observed behaviors of employees. It is my conclusion that happy employees make for a positive clinic and that adds to the potential success of the patient’s treatment. I look for courtesy and calm and efficient behaviors .A professional attitude is essential and attention to the work at hand and that means to me no gum chewing, personal talking and gossiping, obvious snacking, and activities not related to their work. Smiling and a good sense of humor about the encounters with patients are always good signs. I have from time to time when she requests comments about medical care, mentioned such issues with Christina. I think she is curious and interested in gathering information from all sides involved in medical care as a physician. I can only believe that she will be an excellent doctor as she herself is happy and grounded in all aspects of her life – personal and professional. It is exciting to see someone grow in confidence and intelligence about a serious career that touches so many lives. Her resume of medical training and experience are amazing. I hope she has success with her career as a physician for which she has prepared herself with total attention and effort.

  2. Just the type of Doctor we’ve all been waiting for! 😊 My children are all adults now, but I remember waiting, sometimes for hours, for their pediatrician. Other mothers with restless toddlers were in the same situation in his crowded waiting room. We all waited patiently because we knew, that when it was our turn, we would have his undivided attention. Hi humor and laughter would make everyone feel better, especially the sick child who had waited to see him. You sound like the type of caring professional we need in our busy lives!

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