Where are you from? What do you do?

“There are two things I like to ask of my patients before anything else,” Dr. G tells me. “Where are you from? What do you do?”

It may seem strange that those are the first things out of the anesthetist’s mouth, minutes before he wheels you into the operating room and literally takes your life into his hands. But it seems perfectly natural for this slightly weathered man with years of experience, who faces even a high-stakes error-in-intubation with a soothing voice and warming smile.

“It really humanizes the patient,” he explains to me on our way out. “It reminds you that this isn’t just another case, but a human being with a family, with dreams, and a life beyond this dreary hospital.”

Dr. G’s attitude and astounding bedside manners strikes home a point that’s easy to miss when you’re a fledging undergraduate yearning to create ground-shaking change in the world; as a doctor the change you create often occurs with the individual. I’m a strong believer in numbers (partly why Hopkin’s public health school motto, “Saving lives…millions at a time” appeals to me), but I think working solely at the realm of numbers leaves something to be desired. In my mind, one way to define “patient” is a “person at their most vulnerable”. It’s a lot of responsibility but there’s a lot of potential for change as well, even at that micro level. When you can walk up to someone who has been forced to drop all their defenses and somehow assure them that they don’t need those defenses at all…you seem no longer able to relegate that individual to a mere number.

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