How much can you learn about someone in 30 minutes? Does it seem long to you? Or is it too short? When I spend this one-on-one time with a patient in my exam room, my patients share their stories, big or small, medical or not. During these 30 minutes, I get to peek into their lives.
I never fully understood what “doctor-patient relationship” really meant when I was an optometry student. You hear the term being thrown around when you are in training all the time. “Build rapport with your patients” “Listen to your patients” As students or interns, we were too busy worrying about performing exams correctly, or your preceptor/attending yelling at you for being too slow. I thought“doctor-patient relationship” was something that would just come naturally. Building that relationship when you were in training was the last thing on your mind.
Now, I am practicing as an optometrist on my own. My eye exams are not shared with any other interns or overseen by any preceptors. It is “my own show.” I am centre stage with my patient. I started to invest into the “doctor-patient relationship” that they have been talking about so much because I’d like to give the greatest show.
When I am in the exam room with a patient, they tell me stories. There is a story waiting to be heard behind every pair of eyes. Why they moved across the world. What passion project they are working on. How they got to where they are. Who changed their lives. Sometimes the conversations can be a nice casual chat. Sometimes they can be discussions on religion or personal aspirations. All coming from the simple notion of wanting to know, what are you using your vision for, literally and sometimes metaphorically. They have so much to tell and I just listen.
I realized that the doctor-patient relationship comes naturally when you get to know someone as a person, not as a patient. The relationship becomes meaningful when you relate to each other's values, dreams, beliefs and even fears. The relationship elevates when you remove that white coat and become a friend, even family.
You may say that as an optometrist, it is the nature of an eye doctor’s job to ask questions and listen to the concerns. What I have learned is that everyone longs to connect. Everyone has much more to say than just a simple yes/no response. Everyone actually has a story to tell when given the chance. All you need to do is to just listen.
What's your story?
I created the hashtag #WhatLiliSees to feature some of the patient stories I hear. I want to share what I see in each patient as Lili and not as Dr. Lili. I want to encourage other health care practitioners, students in training and even non-medical professionals to do the same: to just listen. After all, what we do is all about relationships.