Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

The Gift of Time


Medical students have more time than doctors to get to know patients as people and uncover unspoken fears about their illness and treatment. 

Recently on wards, I had the privilege of meeting man hospitalized with an acute kidney injury. He had a lengthy history of trauma and mental illness that left him with a deep distrust of the medical system. He absolutely refused lab draws. The nurse, resident, and attending tried in vain to convince him to get his labs drawn, gently explaining the importance. Rational reasoning fell on deaf ears.  


As a medical student with time to spare, I spent time with him, learning about his life, love for the Blues, and career as a musician. We formed a close relationship and he trusted me. I answered his questions, addressed concerns, and ensured his personal needs were met. Eventually, I managed to convince him to get his labs drawn.  


Additionally, a tunnel dialysis catheter that had been unused for seven years was discovered. This is, of course, a nidus for infection, but he refused to have it removed. How he managed to survive with it for that long, I don’t know. He’d been in and out of hospitals during those years, and despite multiple attempts, no one had convinced him to have it removed.  


As I continued to spend time with him, I learned that he was scared. Through careful explanations and a great deal of patience, I addressed his fears and he finally agreed to have it removed. I held his hand throughout the procedure and witnessed his reaction when it was taken out. He smiled from ear to ear. He’d conquered his fear and felt tremendous relief. 


When we take time to listen and learn about the patient behind the chart, it can make all the difference in their care. We must address patients’ personal needs alongside their medical needs.  


This experience taught me that in order to heal, we must first connect with patients in a meaningful way. As a medical student, I can’t impact patients’ lives in the same way a physician can, but there are opportunities nonetheless. We have more time to spend with patients, learning about their lives, and restoring their humanity. The relationships we form with patients are bidirectional. Not only do they improve patient care, but they mold us into better physicians and human beings. 








This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.