The Human Touch

Western recently put out a collection of poetry, writing, photography, and visual art from its medical students. Great to see the work of peers and those in the years above and below me.  The collection includes two of my works. Learning From Experience was previously posed elsewhere, a piece of visual art about the sacrifices of patients for our learning.  The other piece, Solo, is about my first time skydiving.

Being There

“After breakfast, we all get dressed, I pack my daughter’s lunch, and the three of us suit up for the trek to the bus stop. March 2 marks one year since CaRMS Match Day, and rather than being on call or spending time in clinic, I’m on paternity leave.”

A reflection on the year since Match Day, priorities, and the decision to take pat leave.  LINK

Part of the in-House s/p The Match series of reflections looking back on the year since Match Day.

*** Reposted as ‘This physician delayed residency to take paternity leave’ on KevinMD


I wrote about an encounter with a nurse that was attacked by a patient, an event that stuck with me.  I tried a different style to keep focus away from the doctor and on the patient and their sense of responsibility for the attack.  It was recently accepted and posted by CMAJ Blogs.  Check it out: Link

See Publications for more medical narratives


Last fall I worked with a professor in healthcare humanities during a research elective.  It was a great opportunity to get feedback on my writing and reflect on some of my clinical experiences.  A few of the short pieces I wrote during that time were recently published, some others are still in consideration.

Numbness – a short anecdote I told a medical student starting clerkship about patient-centered care.  Part of the 2016 CFMS Annual Review.  Lots of great stuff: CFMS Annual Review 2016

In The Fade – talking about small group learning and the need for openness in discussions.  Included in the National Geriatrics Interest Group’s annual publication. NGIG Publication

Labouring – reflecting time spent on the labor & delivery ward during clerkship and patients not being given the chance to use the comforts available. The Muse Issue 3

“You Should Go Into Medicine”

As an undergraduate student I interned in a microbiology lab and this advice was given to many co-op students by the head of the lab, a kindly middle-aged researcher.  They were so proud sharing what they had been told, that they should be doctors.  A number took the advice and are now in residency or practicing.

Later, working in the same department I decided to ask about the advice he had given numerous times.  “Because they aren’t smart enough to do research,” was his reply.  He went on to explain the job stability and opportunities of a medical career, but I was struck by the contrast between his motivation and the reactions of the students. In this case what is usually considered a compliment was in fact an insult.

Holding Hands

It is hard not to be touched by patient stories. Stories of illness, loss, struggle, abuse, and more. I am often been moved by them, at times feeling tears build only to blink them away and maintain my medical persona. For a time I felt that I should not let these emotions show. Last fall a friend shared a concept with me call moral injury. It is used with veterans that are experiencing long standing psychological consequences of combat exposure. As expounded by Dr. Jonathan Shay this involves the transgression of moral norms in a high stakes environment by someone in authority. He also talks of the need to share ones story as a path to healing. I immediately saw the applicability to medicine.

No veteran will every trust you if you conceal yourself behind a neutral, non-reactive ‘professional’ facade. If you want to weep; weep. If you want to vomit; vomit. The veterans will regard that as a sign you are listening and that you are hearing what they are saying. Dr. Jonathan Shay Link ~6:20

Hearing this was validating.  It helped overcome the hesitancy to be moved deeply by patients. While respecting boundaries I have held many hands and listened to patient’s stories, and I believe they can tell I’m present both intellectually and emotionally. What I’m doing isn’t out of the ordinary, but I’ve had a number of patients thank me and appreciate their stories and concerns being heard. These connections have made clerkship far more rewarding than simply an accumulation of knowledge.