In my STEP project, I created an art therapy project at Riverside Methodist Hospital. I painted a tree on several canvases, hung them on a wall, and cut out paper leaves where cancer and multiple sclerosis patients could write what they were grateful for.
I was a little afraid to work with cancer patients because I thought that working with patients who were in constant pain would be emotionally draining and may even cause me to rethink becoming a doctor. However, helping patients has reaffirmed my decision to become a doctor. In many cases, I am the only person who has a conversation with patients about how they’re feeling, and I hope that I am able to make their days a little better. We talk about what they’re grateful for, but I also connect them with relevant resources such as the hospital social worker or art therapist.
This project has allowed me to see a different side of the medical field. I’ve studied the science behind medicine, but there are no classes which can prepare you for interacting with patients. Medicine requires a level of empathy which cannot be taught or learned in any classes. Interacting with patients allowed me to not only learn how to better explain science to patients, but also allowed me to learn more about how to have positive interactions with patients; I always end interactions on a positive note, like asking patients what they are looking forward to when they get out of the hospital. I have also learned that sometimes patients do not want to be connected to services, but they merely need a person to talk to. This was difficult for me at first because I wanted to take action and find a way to help patients in a more powerful way, but I’ve had to accept that sometimes what patients really need is a confidant.
I’ve realized that patient care and the medical field may be emotionally draining, but knowing that I’m helping patients is worth it. I thought that patients would have more time interacting with services like social workers, but I found out that patients talk to virtually no one if their family and friends do not visit them. Being a confidant for patients allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of how cancer can affect not only a person’s emotional state, but also their finances, relationships, etc. and I hope that by talking to patients, I can help them find solutions.
Many of the patients tell me that they are thankful for the little things in their lives, like Manwiches or their cats. These seemingly insignificant parts of their lives have helped them cope with their illness. I’ve come to appreciate the little things in my life more since I’ve started volunteering at the hospital. I’ve also come to realize how many people have positively affected my life.
These transformations have given me the opportunity to learn more about the medical field. I’ve learned more than a textbook could ever teach me about patient care and how illnesses can affect other parts of a patient’s life. I will apply what I’ve learned from this experience to my future as a doctor; knowing more about how a patient’s illness can affect other parts of their life and knowing more about patient care and various resources (such as art therapy and social work) will allow me to more effective help patients cope with all parts of their illness, not just the medicine.