Creating the Mosaic: What My Attending Taught Me

In a previous blog post I wrote about the fact that, “We are all mosaics of everyone we meet” – It’s one of my favorite thoughts. Then recently, in a more specific focus, I caught myself examining a newborn baby as she started to cry, and turned to the parents and asked, “Aw well where did she get her loud mouth from? Mom or dad?” I paused, not just for their giggles as they pointed at each other, but instantly for a reflective thought that I had, without thinking about it: I had just reflexively repeated a phrase that one of my older attendings in residency training said to new families every single day – a cheesy line I swore i’d never say. It struck me that now as an Attending Physician with passion towards engaging with and helping to educate learners on life beyond medicine, even the smallest things I say to the most fleeting of learners may stick around for a life time. Just like sons become their fathers, and daughters become their mothers, so are my slowly becoming my attendings.

As a medical student, I worked with a quirky brilliant Psychiatry resident in Biloxi, Mississippi when I was rotating at the VA. With every patient encounter he would introduce me, a lowly medical student, as the Junior Doctor. At the time, I felt honored, and have since referred to each of my medical students as such. It has changed some of the ways my patients view their importance, and lifted up my learners’ responsibilities to acknowledge that someday they will be the ones making these tough decisions.

Every time I do a circumcision, i call it the “California Cut” like my mentor Dr. M always would and always make the same inappropriate thoughts towards wallets and purses and movie stars (nothing that I can repost on here, but something that is inevitably now part of my process). Something, as if to pay homage, to the greats before me that have become so important in shaping who I am as a person and how i practice medicine.

In Residency I worked with a Neonatology fellow, now attending, that was the most intimidating person I’d ever met. One reason i chose to do locum tenens was that I want so much to be like her one day, but know that comes with experience and trial by fire – something she experienced as a resident doctor that I didn’t. I’ve learned to explain what a “Resident” and a “Fellow” are in ways that make sense to patients and friends, only because of what she says: “A Pediatric resident is a doctor specializing in pediatrics,” and “A Neonatology fellow is a pediatrician sub-specializing in Neonatology.” It has been a small tweak to my vocabulary that has revolutionized understandings and appreciation for what I do from my friends that, even after 10 years, have had a hard time understanding the different levels of training.

And, one of my favorite catchphrases I learned from a passionate Pediatric Oncologist in Texas are things I use almost every day for those that are scared, those that are worried… “You didn’t sign up for this. But, that’s ok, we did.” And of course, especially in the day of, “I did my research,”Remember, there’s no editor for the internet.”

They say that “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” and for myself, it has become also a large part of the kind of doctor I am. I am always cautious that my words will echo in eternity for the learners that hear them, and wonder if one day I will pass down what has been said to me. I wonder if one day, years from now, a doctor will come full circle to sit down with a patient and affect their life by a thought or phrase or perspective that I have spoken into the universe. We are always watching those that lead us, and it has humbled me to be given the chance to be watched.

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