What My Patients Taught Me

        The short answer is everything.

        I thought about my patients this weekend.  As part of my CME every winter I kick off the New Year with a big on-line test, then some of the boys in charge send me a piece of paper that says what a smart doctor I am.  I guess what they say is important but what my patients think matters a whole lot more to me.

        After all, my patients were my real teachers.  I was always okay with books and made it a habit to speed read all kinds of things, but I have a secret.  The way I take those tests is I just think about people.  I read the question and Ms. Smith or Jones pops into my head, and then I remember what all those fancy doctors at the medical center said about their case.  After that all you gotta do is fill in the right bubbles.  One year I got every single cardiology question right on the Boards, and all I did was recall what a favorite consultant said about my people in the letters he mailed me. 

        Sometimes they’ll reference some obscure study and try to confuse you.  A fun exercise is to read the answers without even reading the question.  All you gotta do is pick out the responses a fellow in a three-piece suit would think some country doctor would take for the right answer and mark them wrong. (The ones that feel condescending are a dead give-away)  The guy who wrote the test put those questions in there to try to trip you up and make himself feel smarter than what he is.  Ain’t nothing to it.

        The problem for the guy in the suit is he hasn’t seen as many people over the years as I have.  Even though I might not be as smart as the cat who wrote up the quiz I’ve had so many good teachers the test gurus have trouble hanging with me.  I enjoy poking  a bit of good-natured fun at ’em.  My wife says I like being a bit contrary. 

        Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine, said, “Seeing patients without reading books is like going to sea without a compass, but reading books without seeing patients is like not going to sea at all.”  I figure Sir Billy knew more about it than I do, so I’m sticking with him.

        In memory of Aunt Minnie.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: The Monday Morning Post, Writing


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2 Comments on “What My Patients Taught Me”

  1. The guy in the suit probably hasn’t been to see a patient since he left med-school, if he even attended it. The thing that I feel so many doctors in big city hospitals don’t get is that bedside manner and real, true kindness can go a heck of a long way with people – sometimes more than giving a solution. I know that my dad’s doctors did everything they could to try to cure his cancer, but you know what? Some of them were plain mean and that made my family and me feel even worse than we did, even though the docs gave smart advice and treatment.

    • drtombibey Says:


      The guy in the suit went I am sure, and he was also good with books, but he forgot it was really about people.

      In the end we all are dust to dust but the least we can do is treat people with dignity while we are here.

      Dr. B

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