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When You Don’t Know

There are many incidences in medicine where we don’t have answers. As a new resident, there’s an awful amount of medical knowledge I do not know. I try to learn something each day and have a schedule for my readings. Yet the amount I don’t know is still terrifying.

But one of the best things about being a resident is that you are still a student. As a resident, you have more responsibilities than when you were a medical student and by going out of your comfort zone you grow in your abilities. However, you are still training in a supervised environment. There is always someone higher up on the chain, whether that is a senior resident or attending physician. You can discuss your patient care thought processes with someone more experienced than you. They can provide you with valuable insight not only on current practices in medicine, but also on how to interact and care for patients.

I was discussing a challenging case with my preceptor the other day. There were a lot of complex factors that made this patient’s diagnosis unclear. The clinical findings were not consistent with laboratory and imaging results. It was a puzzle several specialists couldn’t agree on. My preceptor was the first to admit he didn’t know what was going on. As the specialist in the field, he was supposed have the answers that other people didn’t know!

I wrote about the uncertainty in medicine four years ago when I started medical school. At first you are unaware of the vastness of knowledge out there. But as you climb this flagpole of knowledge you begin to see how much is still unexplored. Even when I see an illness again and again, something like asthma, a topic I have reviewed dozens of times, I learn something new each time.

This uncertainty is one of the most terrifying feelings in medicine. Especially for the type of people who go into medicine, the type A personality that wants to excel, the type of person who strives to get all the answers right on their exams. The realization that there are questions with no known answers is nerve wrecking. It becomes even more real when you remember you are caring for patients… other human beings! On the other hand, it is also one of the most exhilarating experiences and a lot of fun. Medicine can be very intellectually stimulating. There’s always something you can be curious about. Something to learn, new things to do.

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One Comment

  1. Prakash
    Prakash August 17, 2012

    Thanks, useful post.


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